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Aachen Showjumping Update: Michi Maintains the Lead; Everyone Else Plays Pick-Up Sticks

Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk retain their Aachen lead in the second phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Boy, does Aachen move fast: we were scarcely free of the Deutsche Bank stadium, the site’s secondary devoted to dressage, before the eventing competition moved over to the capacious main stadium with its 40,000 seats and wide swathes of grass footing. There’s nowhere quite like this in equestrian sport, and it’s even more unique in eventing – though Kentucky’s main arena offers an impressive stadium setting, this feels like striding into something more akin to Wembley. That can be a bit of an eye-opener for horses, who often go rather starstruck in their rounds, and it also lures riders into using a bit too much of the available space. As a result, poles fall liberally — and the time penalties rack up pretty prolifically, too.

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser continue their Badminton redemption arc, moving up a placing after delivering a clear round. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We saw no small amount of action in the ring this evening, with just nine of the 42 combinations delivering fault-free rounds. Notable among those four-faulters were previously second-placed Will Coleman and the ten-year-old Chin Tonic HS, who tickled and toppled the airy upright at seven to drop to sixth place going into cross-country; Ros Canter and her World Champion Allstar B, who had an early rail to drop from fourth to eleventh; Germany’s Boekelo winners Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi, who tipped the second element of the double to slip from seventh to twelfth; and Will Coleman again, this time with last year’s winner Off the Record, who had the same rail as Sophie to move from ninth to thirteenth. France’s Stephane Landoise, tenth after the first phase with Chaman Dumontceau, also slid from the top ten, moving down to fourteenth after knocking an early pole as the last to go.

William Fox-Pitt’s Little Fire delivers the goods as his breeder watches on. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

That opened the door for those nine clears to act as the catalysts for fortuitous leaderboard climbs. Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, arguably the most reliable show jumpers in the field, delivered the goods to step up from third to second, while William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire, whose breeder is here spectating this weekend, did the same to climb from sixth to third overnight.

Tim Price’s Pau winner Falco delivers a stylish clear. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Many of the clears came at the tail end of the class as the anchor riders of each team delivered their best efforts. Among those was Tim Price, who orchestrated a one-place climb to fourth after a characteristically stylish round with his 2021 Pau winner Falco – though he’ll be ruing the 0.4 time penalties he picked up, which prevented him from going ahead of William Fox-Pitt.

Sandra Auffarth and Viamant du Matz make their move up the leaderboard with a super clear. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sandra Auffarth, third to go for the German team, moved up from eighth to fifth with her Tokyo mount Viamant du Matz, which put them ahead of previously second-placed Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS in sixth.

Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Buck Davidson and Carlevo halve their placing with one of the nine double-clears of the day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There was plenty to celebrate in camp USA, though: they also hold seventh place after a sparkling clear from Buck Davidson and Carlevo propelled them up from 15th – and the team itself moved up from fourth to third place in the standings.

Yasmin Ingham and Rehy DJ step up to eighth overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

British partnership Yasmin Ingham and Rehy DJ — or Piglet, to his friends — moved up to eighth place from sixteenth after an attacking, confident clear, and Australia’s Andrew Hoy and Vassily de Lassos, with whom they were equally placed after the first phase, delivered the first faultless round of the day to move up to ninth overnight. The top ten is rounded out by Ireland’s Joseph Murphy, who survived a sticky jump mid-course with Calmaro to move up from 21st.

Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent get the job done under pressure. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We also saw a super clear with 1.2 time from the USA’s Meghan O’Donoghue, who jumped from 26th to fifteenth place with her ex-racehorse Palm Crescent, while fellow US teammate Sydney Elliott had an unlucky pair of rails, plus 1.2 time penalties, to slip from 28th to 34th place.

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The margins are looking tight as a tick as we head into tomorrow morning’s cross-country finale — well, expect at the top of the leaderboard, of course. Michael Jung boasts a 4.2 penalty lead over Tom McEwen, which translates as 11 seconds in hand, and though Aachen’s time is notoriously hard to catch, it’s hard to imagine the super-fast pair needing that much of a buffer. Tom’s margin ahead of William is slimmer: he’s 0.8, or two seconds, ahead, and from then on out, much of our line-up stands within seconds of one another. We’ll be taking a closer look at the challenge to come soon — in the meantime, Go Eventing!

The team standings after two phases at Aachen.

The top ten after an influential showjumping phase at Aachen.

CHIO Aachen Links: Website|Entries|Live Scoring|Live Stream|EN’s Coverage|EN’s Insta|EN’s Twitter

Michael Jung Leads Aachen Dressage with Faultless fischerChipmunk FRH

Michael Jung’s Kentucky champion fischerChipmunk FRH delivers a 22.2 to take an unsurprising first-phase lead. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In perhaps the least surprising moment of 2022’s sporting calendar so far, Michael Jung has taken a decisive first-phase lead at Aachen with his Kentucky champion, fischerChipmunk FRH. The pair scored an exceptional 22.2 in a faultless test, putting them 3.6 penalties ahead going into this afternoon’s showjumping.

“Everything was a highlight — he was nice to ride, relaxed, and positive,” says Michi, who brought the horse back into work just a couple of weeks ago. “He’s just done a bit of training and hacking — it’s all easygoing, but he’s on very good form.”

Will Coleman and ten-year-old Chin Tonic HS impress again on German soil, sitting second after dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After an impressive effort at Luhmühlen’s CCI4*-S two weeks ago, where he led the dressage and ultimately finished eleventh in a top-class field, Will Coleman‘s Chin Tonic HS is back with a bang: he sits second on a 25.8 after an expressive, fluid test that didn’t at all betray his innate inexperience.

“He still feels like a kid at his first state fair — he goes in there and he’s like, ‘wow, look at this!’,” says Will. “He doesn’t do anything wrong, but you sort of feel that you’re not really attacking the test. But I think we’ll get there, and for a young horse on his first big excursion he’s been great, and we’re really, really happy with him.”

Will’s sojourn with the exciting gelding has been part of a mission to give him valuable experience that’ll hopefully set him up well as a championship horse for the future.

“It’s taken a bit out of him, and I do feel like he’s a little bit not totally himself, but he’s got a great brain in a lot of ways and he’s an honest, genuine horse, so even when he feels a little bit like he’s had some of the spark taken out of him, it’s been really nice to see that he’s still answered the bell to this point. It’s all part of the process, and that’s really why we brought him over and are doing this — it’s to see how he copes and see where we can support him better for the future. It’s a fact-finding mission, but I think he’s well worth the investment.”

2021 champion Off The Record betters last year’s test – despite errors in the canter work. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Will heads into the second phase with an impressive two horses in the top ten: his 2021 Aachen winner, Off The Record, posted a 28.5 to better last year’s score by 1.2 penalties, which was enough to put him in ninth place at the end of this phase. That’s two places up from where he started last year, despite mistakes in the canter work, proving that the overall  picture has undeniably improved – helped along, perhaps, by ‘Timmy’s’ recent swap to a double bridle.

“It’s a really strong field — like, an Olympic quality field, and so anyone who’s put in a test that’s in the top ten should be fairly happy,” says Will. “There are little things that you always think can be better, but my horse has tried really hard and although we had a couple of little unfortunate mistakes at the end, it’s a three-phase competition, so we have to put it behind us and just look ahead.”

The uncharacteristic mistakes included a swap to the left lead coming out of the corner at the start of the canter work, and another swap after the extended canter: “that was maybe a little bit of tension creeping in, or maybe when he made the first mistake it rattled him a little bit. He does try in his own way, and it’s one of those things where I don’t know if I can explain why it happened, but it’s not catastrophic. I do think he’s a bit farther along, and I was really happy with the test, but I’m just bummed for him more than anything — I probably could have done something a little better in there, and I’m not going to blame him for that. Hopefully I can make it up to him in the other phases!”

Those other phases — which begin with this evening’s showjumping in the main arena and conclude with tomorrow morning’s technical, intense cross-country course, should certainly fill Will with some confidence, because he’s sitting on a horse that won this competition last year with two clear rounds and just 0.8 time penalties across the country. But ever the pragmatist, Will’s determined to keep looking forward, rather than dwelling on prior successes.

“I’m just trying to keep things in a good perspective,” he says. “It’s a different year, and even the horses are different than they were last year. The course is different; everything is different. We’re back at Aachen, and that’s the only thing that’s the same, so I’m trying not to have a whole lot of memory of last year — I’m just trying to focus on what’s in front of us.”

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser look on super form, taking provisional third after the first phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Another rider who’s committed to looking forward — though for rather different reasons — is Great Britain’s Tom McEwen, who sits third on 26.4 with his Tokyo individual silver medallist Toledo de Kerser. They come to Aachen after a tough spring for the rider, whose Badminton bid with the Selle Français ended with a shock fall near the end of the course, and who has since had similarly odd blips at Bramham, where his ride Dream Big fell in the final line while showjumping for a top ten placing, and at Luhmühlen, where a dog on course caused his horse Bob Chaplin to spook and fall at the penultimate fence on cross-country.

But Tom, who’s a stalwart member of the British team, is wise beyond his 31 years, and he’s aware that bad luck — just like good — tends to come all at once, and all you can do is keep on working through it. Already, he’s got plenty to be excited about: the walk, which has been something of an Achilles’ heel for the gelding, looked at its best in today’s test, which was packed to the hilt with quality.

“That walk was an 8 for him, comparable to everyone else, and I’m really pleased,” says Tom. The one expensive blip came in the first flying change, which earned them 4.5s from the judges at C and E.

“It’s a shame, because that’s been nailed all the time outside — but I didn’t quite have him connected coming out of the corner,” he explains. “The rest, though, felt really nice — really clear, really supple, and really forward.”

Tom, whose bid for World Championships selection likely hinges on a good run here this week, didn’t actually rely on an arena-based game plan for improving the details, including that walk — instead, it comes down in large part to backing off the now-15-year-old.

“All the pieces have connected on their own, to a degree, and we’ve really worked him out and had a good set plan here. He’s getting older, and he doesn’t need to work half as much as he used to. Our prep probably wasn’t perfect; he had a run at Farley last weekend just to give him a run after Badminton, and normally I wouldn’t do that, so he’d probably have a bit more punch to his trot. But I couldn’t be happier; he tried his heart out and was brilliant.”

World Champions Ros Canter and Allstar B add a karaoke element to their test, but still deliver a competitive performance. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

World Champions Ros Canter and Allstar B have also scaled back the schooling to great effect this year, and although we got ‘Allstar B: The Musical’ in the arena today, the pair earned themselves a very good score of 26.5 to take fourth place going into showjumping.

“Albie’s best friend Zenshera is here this week to do the Ride & Drive class, and they’ve got particularly attached to each other since they’ve been here,” says Ros of Albie’s near-constant whinnying throughout the test. “He actually hadn’t whinnied at all until he started his test, but I think he was amazing, actually, because he managed to whinny and only have half his mind on the job and still pull out one of his best tests. Most horses, if they were whinnying and distracted like him, would jog in the walk or something, or their heads would move, and he really felt no different than usual. I was over the moon with how he went — I think this year, I’m probably getting better and better at riding him.”

Since the European Championships last September, Ros has taken all of Albie’s schooling out of the arena, choosing instead to hack him extensively and let him mentally and physically unwind – and that method is still serving her well, particularly as the seventeen-year-old gelding hasn’t long been back in work after his post-Badminton holidays.

“He hasn’t done an awful lot — he hacked for a couple of weeks, and then went in the arena twice and jumped a few times and then he’s come here,” she says.

The rangy gelding is a consummate long-format specialist and excels over tracks such as Badminton and Burghley, so while Ros concedes that Aachen might not be his ideal event, she was keen not to pass up an opportunity to compete at the extraordinary venue for the first time: “I’ve never been and I really wanted to come, and he was probably the only one that fitted in, schedule wise. I don’t run him at many four-shorts, because he’s a better long format horse, but I’d kind of run out of options — it probably isn’t his ideal track, but he’s such an old pro and we’ll give it our best shot.”

Tim Price and Falco dance to a spot in the top five after the first phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

2021 Pau winners Tim Price and Falco looked on great form to take provisional fifth place on a score of 26.8, while sixth place is held for now by William Fox-Pitt, whose Little Fire could be on track for Pratoni selection with a competitive run here. Their 27.2 just betters the score they earned at Badminton, where they finished thirteenth this spring.

William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire contain the spark for a 27.2. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The home nation holds seventh and eighth place, with Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi taking the former on 27.5 after rerouting from Luhmühlen CCI5*, where they retired at the first water after an exuberant entrance and a subsequent loss of reins meant they were well off their line for the next element, prompting Sophie to make the call to save her Boekelo winner for another day. Behind them on 28.3 is Sandra Auffarth with her Tokyo partner Viamant du Matz, who produced a test of improved fluency from their Luhmühlen effort, which saw them earn a 31. The top ten is rounded out by young Frenchman Stephane Landois, who earned a 28.6 with Chaman Dumontceau.

 

Buck Davidson and Carlevo go sub-30 despite it being Carlevo’s ‘worst test’, per Buck. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A broken-footed Buck Davidson and Carlevo sit fifteenth on a 29.9 despite a mistake in the first canter strike-off, which saw them pick up the wrong lead for a stride: “It’s really irritating; I don’t think I’ve ever missed a canter strike off with him, even in practice — but sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug, right? There’s two more phases, though, and I can’t fault him. I’ll take it on the chin and be better next time, for sure.”

Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent fly the flag for ex-racehorses. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Aachen debutantes Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent, who were eleventh at Kentucky this spring, go into showjumping in 26th place on a very respectable 31.6.

“I was thrilled with him; he tried really, really hard — and we’re here for the team, most importantly, so I hope that we can contribute to that,” says Meghan. “He’s an American Thoroughbred, and he raced, so I’m definitely also trying to show that they still have a place in the sport.”

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire far eclipse their previous Aachen test, posting a 32.4. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire sit 28th on a 32.4, which doesn’t quite rival the competitive scores they’ve earned at venues such as Boekelo, but is a considerable improvement over last year’s test here, which saw the leggy gelding boil over in the ring. Part of Sydney’s plan of action? Arriving to Europe early, so she could get a couple of weeks of training in at the Belgian base of Lara de Liedekerke Meier and Kai Steffen Meier.

“We really wanted to let him settle, and Kai has been helping us keep that theme going from Boekelo,” says Sydney. “He’s very fragile, and a bit of a delicate flower, so he likes to get settled in — and Kai and Lara are basically family now, so it’s hard to even think about leaving!”

We’re heading straight into showjumping now, so stay tuned for more updates from Aachen. Go Eventing!

The top ten after dressage at CHIO Aachen.

CHIO Aachen Links: Website|Entries|Live Scoring|Live Stream|EN’s Coverage|EN’s Insta|EN’s Twitter

Wet and Wild: One Horse Held in Star-Studded (and Soggy) CHIO Aachen First Horse Inspection

Reigning Aachen champions Will Coleman and Off the Record. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s nowhere quite like CHIO Aachen. Nestled in the crook of Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium, it’s an absolute oasis of horsey excellence that has no rival in any discipline – and if you want to see the best of the best, all in one place, this is where you want to be. This week sees the creme de la creme of showjumping, dressage, driving, vaulting, and eventing come together to battle for some of sport’s most coveted titles, and in between standing at the riders’ lounge bar and marvelling over the fact that Daniel Deusser is to our left and Isabell Werth is to our right, we’re managing to carve out some time to cover (in our humble opinion) the finest competition of the week: the CCIO4*-S.

We were rewarded for our efforts with a thunderstorm that began as promptly as this afternoon’s first horse inspection did, putting an end to several days of blazing sunshine. But all’s fair in love, war, and horse sports, and so we all cracked on undeterred, watched on by several pure dressage riders schooling in an adjacent arena and probably wondering why on earth any of us whinge about flying changes when they can do approximately 480 in a row without breaking a sweat.We jest, but actually, herein lies the real magic of Aachen: from beginning to end, it’s an extraordinary educational experience for everyone who crosses the threshold, whether they’re a fan, a rider, a groom, a trainer, an owner, or whatever other role they hold. Want to learn how to approach an airy upright? Go watch Steve Guerdat do it at 1.60m. Want to see how to set up true collection? Nip over to catch Catherine Dufour piaffing in the Deutsche Bank stadium. Want to get a sense of what figurative balls of steel look like? Head over to cross-country to see our competitors giving a fine display in the art of abject bravery and trust in a horse.

Cathal Daniels chats to the ground jury before representing CDS Cairnview Romolu. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But before we get to all that, of course, there’s the formalities — and today, that was the horse inspection, held before the ground jury of president Dr Ernst Top (GER), Peter Gray (CAN), and Christina Klingspor (SWE), the latter two of which will make up part of the ground jury at this September’s World Championships.

Just one horse was held at the very start of the afternoon’s proceedings: that was the eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse CDS Cairnview Romolu, one of two mounts for Ireland’s Cathal Daniels. They were accepted upon representation, though after some deliberation, and no further holds were ordered, though France’s Camille Lejeune was asked to trot Good Size des Quatre Chenes a second time. With minimal drama – and a palpable desperation to get everyone back under the safe cover of the bar – the horse inspection concluded with all horse-and-rider pairs, plus all presented Jump and Drive entrants, accepted to begin the competition tomorrow.

It’s all pretty fast and furious on the schedule for the eventers here at the CHIO. They’ll begin with dressage tomorrow from 8.30 a.m. local time (7.30 a.m. BST/2.30 a.m. EST), and then, after a couple of hours’ break, they’ll head over to the famous main stadium for showjumping as the sun sets. Cross-country follows on Saturday morning, and by beers o’clock, we’ll know who our 2022 CHIO champions are. Efficiency is key — we are in Germany, after all.

The field of entries we’ve got in front of us is as heart-rate-raising as the timetable, mind you. Aachen, which is an invite-only event and also a team competition — though not part of the FEI Nations Cup series — always commands a seriously good line-up, but this year’s feels particularly excellent. That’s been further qualified by the chaps over at EquiRatings, who crunched the numbers and have dubbed it the most competitive four-star field of this year so far – particularly wild when you consider that that includes the likes of Thoresby, which was a pivotal Badminton prep event back at the start of the season.

Sarah Bullimore and Corouet begin their redemption campaign. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Many teams are using this as a way to help with their World Championship selections, and a great performance under pressure here will certainly help some riders’ chances: among those excellent competitors who are here for a redemption run are British entrants Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, who took individual silver and team gold at Tokyo but had a hugely uncharacteristic crashing fall at Badminton, and Sarah Bullimore and her homebred Corouet, who won individual bronze at last year’s European Championships but picked up a green 20 in the horse’s five-star debut at Kentucky. For Germany’s Anna Siemer and FRH Butt’s Avondale, who have been excellent at two European Championships and helped the Germans to team silver at last year’s Europeans, it’s a chance to put an early fall at Pratoni’s test event to bed, while Boekelo winners Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi have rerouted here after an early retirement in the mare’s five-star debut. They led the dressage here last year and will certainly be among those to keep a close eye on, particularly if you like following future gold medallists — they’ve got an enormous amount of talent to burn and will no doubt be mainstays at major championships before too long.

Olympic gold medallists Julia Krajewski and Amande de b’Neville. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s also our first chance to see some serious heavy hitters back on the main stage after major victories: Michael Jung will ride his Kentucky champion fischerChipmunk FRH, and our Olympic gold medallists, Julia Krajewski and Amande de b’Neville, come to Aachen off the back of a win in the CCI4*-S at Wiesbaden a few weeks ago. Last year’s Pau winners, Tim Price and Falco, will be on the hunt for a serious result, as will individual Olympic bronze medallists Andrew Hoy and Vassily de Lassos. We’ve also got our reigning World Champions, Ros Canter and Allstar B, on the bill, plus this year’s Luhmühlen winner Felix Vogg, who rides his Pratoni hopeful Cartania this week. Of course, it would be remiss of us to miss out a sterling sophomore appearance at Aachen for Off The Record, who is the reigning CHIO champion with the USA’s Will Coleman. They return to the show with a rejigged dressage bitting set-up that we saw in action in their test-run dressage at Luhmühlen CCI4*-S, where they put in one of the leading efforts before withdrawing.

India’s Fouaad Mirza and Seigneur Medicott return to the world stage after impressing at Tokyo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Prefer to focus your attentions on the stars of the very-near-future? There’s plenty to sink your teeth into, including Great Britain’s Yasmin Ingham, who was second at Kentucky with Banzai du Loir and rides Rehy DJ this week, and India’s Fouaad Mirza, who was impressive at Tokyo with the former Bettina Hoy mount Seigneur Medicott. Austria’s young superstar Lea Siegl, who’s just 23, comes forward with DSP Fighting Line, with whom she was 15th at the Olympics, and Switzerland’s Nadja Minder, who delivered two of the seven clears inside the time at the Pratoni test event, will ride Aquila B.

In total, we’ve got 13 nations represented across the 42 competitors, and the USA has a crack line-up in Will and Off the Record, Buck Davidson and CarlevoMeghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent, and frequent flyers Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire, who once again took advantage of some pre-show training at the Belgian base of Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Kai Steffen Meier.

Fancy catching all the action as it happens? You can tune in via ClipMyHorse.TV or via the Aachen website (though you may need a VPN for the latter!). You can find the times for tomorrow’s dressage here — and in the meantime, here’s the soggiest trot-up gallery you’ll see this year, maybe.

CHIO Aachen Links: Website|Entries|Live Scoring|Live Stream|EN’s Coverage|EN’s Insta|EN’s Twitter

Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Aachen’s Weird, Wonderful Opening Ceremony

Last night saw CHIO Aachen 2022 — also known as the World Equestrian Festival — get underway officially, with a grand, slightly chaotic, occasionally fully weird opening ceremony and party. Though the CHIO has already technically been running for a few days with some jumping classes and vaulting, too, it’s now definitely kicked up a notch in the competition stakes at the German venue. We’ll be bringing you plenty of content from the show this week, with a venue walk-through on our Instagram stories and highlights now and lots more to come, but first, let’s relive the best bits of the opening ceremony, including the retirement of Isabell Werth’s Bella Rose, lots of ponies, the most terrifying inflatable horses you’ll ever see, a hobby horse army, a German rockstar, pyrotechnics, and much, much more (though we recommend turning on translated captions if you want to understand what’s going on!). Welcome to the horse world’s ultimate fever dream.

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“I’m Always Hoping I Can Have That Feeling One More Time”: Five-Star Horse Who Changed Lives Dies at 26

Two Tims and a horse who changed their lives. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’re sad to report that Keyflow NOP (Colonel Collins x Amatrics, by Alicante), the former championship mount of Dutch Olympian Tim Lips, has died at the age of 26 after an incredible career and a happy — though not entirely drama-free — retirement.

We were lucky enough to meet Keyflow last year at Lips Stables in The Netherlands, and even luckier to be part of an exciting reunion: due to travel restrictions at the time, Kiwi duo Tim and Jonelle Price were using the Breda yard as a stopover en route to Luhmühlen, which gave Tim, the ex-racehorse’s original rider, the chance to see the horse who arguably helped springboard his career after nearly a decade apart. For both Tims, it was also a chance to share in the happy memories of an elderly Thoroughbred who had changed both their lives in very different ways.

For Tim Lips, the impact Keyflow had was as a competitive partner. He was Keyflow’s final, most successful rider, and together, they tackled two European Championships, picked up a bronze medal at the World Equestrian Games, and finished in the top ten at Badminton – even though Tim didn’t originally think the horse was suitable for the task at hand.

“I was lucky to work with a horse like that in my life. In the beginning, we didn’t think that we could have a picture like this” — he gestures around him, at walls of expressive competition photos — “and I’d had Concrex Oncarlos [as my previous top horse], who had come to us as a good dressage horse. So after two weeks I said to my father, ‘I think we should send him back, because this horse is really nuts and he can’t jump!’ But because we’d got him from very good friends, we kept going.”

“For me, he was a really, really special horse, but in the beginning, if I hadn’t been paid to ride him, I would have given up. But because his owner Peter Eck did this, and it was my first time riding for an owner, I had to try — and actually, all my best horses have taken that time. You really need to learn each other and how to work together. With Keyflow, he had so much quality — but that didn’t make it easy for himself, as well. I always say that I need to respect the horse, but the horse also needs to respect the rider; he always wanted to go back to the stable, even in the outdoor arena at home. And out hacking, going away from home was okay, but coming back wasn’t so easy – my father went into a ditch with him one time, and I think 80% of horses would have fallen, but he was so brave to jump out again. But he could be a bit dangerous, too, and so only me and my father could go to gallop him or anything like that.”

Once they made their first competitive starts, though, Tim started to see what the horse was really made of — after getting an abortive first run out of the way in a national two-star class, in which they picked up a score of around 50 and two technical run-outs when Tim had to circle to regain some semblance of control.

“He was a bit crazy, but then he really surprised us. I never forget our second competition, which was just a low level competition, but that feeling… he had so much power. He really had something, and all the good horses I’ve ever ridden have had something that average horses don’t. They have to be capable in the body, but it’s also a mental thing — and it’s hard to train that. Either they’ve got it or they don’t.”

Part of what complicated the process was Keyflow’s pre-existing bank of knowledge and experience: by the time Tim took the reins, the gelding was already fourteen, and had stepped down to run at now-two and three-star level for a couple of seasons with Germany’s Anna Siemer in the irons.

“I think it took two or three years for us to really figure it out, and in the first two years, we didn’t have the results we really wanted. I’m a really different rider than Tim Price is; I’m probably closer to Anna’s style than to Tim’s, but you still have to take the time to get to know each other and get confident with each other.”

In getting to know one another, Tim found Keyflow’s Achilles heel: left-handed corners. On the flip side, though, he also discovered the horse’s greatest strength.

“Maybe it started a little bit in my head, but I knew that it was always a big risk for a run-out – and because he was fast, I also knew I could take the alternative route and still not lose to much time,” he says. “So then he didn’t run out anymore, and that was the moment where I finally felt I could start to jump bigger, more technical questions. I think if I’d kept trying to fix the left corner issue, we never would have the results we did. If you’re sitting on a Thoroughbred horse that can gallop and you know you can go from 30 seconds down to eight seconds down, and things like that, why wouldn’t you use that? It’s the sensible thing to do — and then I felt like I had the whole toolkit, and the results started to come.”

Tim Lips and Keyflow N.O.P. at the First Horse Inspection at Longines Blair Castle European Champs – could there be a more beautiful backdrop for an event? I don’t think so! Photo by Samantha Clark.

“We never won an international, but he was always reliable, especially for the Dutch team — you could really count on him,” remembers Tim. At his very best moments, Keyflow thrived by showing his grit and gumption – most memorably at an extraordinarily tough and wet Badminton in 2014, where he was seventh, and a similarly tough, bottomless week at the Normandy World Equestrian Games that summer, where he helped the Dutch team to a bronze medal.

“We live in a very different country to England, so we can’t make the horses fit with only hacking — we really have to gallop our horses and know how fit they are, and so we’ve trained with heart rate systems since 2010 or 2011. That meant that I knew exactly how fit he was, and it also meant I always knew exactly when I could go fast in the course and when I couldn’t. With Keyflow, I felt that he was produced to jump courses like Badminton – with a horse like Bayro, he was produced to jump Belgian courses with a focus on safety and profiled fences and things, but Keyflow was a horse that wouldn’t care if it was very vertical fences on a mountain. He knew how to jump it, and he made it feel very natural.”

That natural aptitude for cross-country was what helped Tim take colossal steps forward over the toughest of tracks.

“At Badminton in 2014, I was actually walking the cross-country for three days, and I still didn’t really know how to jump it because it was really, really tough,” he remembers. “And then when the first riders didn’t even finish, I thought, ‘oh, no, I’d better retire and go to Luhmühlen instead. It’s more fun, because I think this is not so fun’. But then my dad was the Dutch team coach at the time, and he was like, ‘this could be your day — you have a horse that can do this’. And he was right; it was the best course I’ve ever ridden. It felt so good, and now I’m always hoping I can have that feeling one more time. It’s not that I haven’t ridden nice courses on other horses, but nothing has ever felt so easy on the toughest track I’ve ever ridden. I look back, and there’s not one jump I would have done differently. It was really perfect.”

At the end of that extraordinary day of competition, which saw just 35 of the 83 starters cross the finish line, Tim and 18-year-old Keyflow would record the second fastest time — behind Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy. At that point in Tim’s career, the Badminton result was his biggest, best, and most hard-won moment – but he would top it just months later when he and his intrepid horse stepped onto the podium at the WEG.

“That really was such a special moment,” he recalls. “And with these incredible horses, the greatest thing they give us is the chance to collect memories.”

For Tim Price, Keyflow was an accidental purchase that became a lifeline, arguably springboarding the careers and livelihood of the sport’s most prominent power couple.

“Way before the idea had even been conceived of coming to the UK, I was down the bottom of my family’s farm in the South Island of New Zealand,” he remembers. “It was just a normal day on the breeding farm, but the day, we had a hedge trimmer there that was doing all the big hedges around the boundary of the farm. Down at the bottom, our farm bordered a neighbour’s that we didn’t have much association with on a daily basis; we’d see him maybe every month or so, just in the supermarket or something.”

“The horses in that field were hooning around and being larrikins, and Keyflow was one of them — although he was called Rocky back then. He was just a racehorse, four or five-years-old, by a well-known racing sire called Colonel Collins, whose offspring are known for being very tricky. He was in that category, and the guy who was training him had all but given up on him.”

“I was helping hold the horses while the trimmer was on the other side of the hedge, and the one I was holding was Keyflow,” says Tim. “The guy was telling me all about how he’d been a fairly disappointing racehorses and a bit troublesome in general to deal with, and then the conversation kind of finished with him saying, ‘well, you can have the bloody thing if you want.’ I was there in bare feet holding onto this horse and not really in that state of mind, but I was like, ‘sure!’ And I led him just by his halter, in my bare feet, all the way back up to our farm and chucked him on the yard and went to tell mum and dad what had happened.”

From the get-go, Tim found plenty to like about the sharp, smart gelding.

“He’s exuded athleticism all through his career, and at the beginning he was a typical Thoroughbred who wants to go and wants to do. We had a good couple of years in New Zealand before I decided it would be a good idea to put him on a plane.”

By that point, the idea of going to the UK had been very firmly conceived of: it was the early noughties, and Tim and then-girlfriend Jonelle had put all their limited resources together to travel with their horses, first around New Zealand and Australia, and then on to the UK, where they each bought a horse to tackle Burghley.

“There was a lot of back and forth in those days; we’d each bring a horse over, compete, leave the horses there, and then come back to New Zealand to earn a bit more money and deal with the other horses, and then we’d go back to England again to make another bid for the next six months — another Burghley, and then home again, regroup, and go back for Badminton. During that time, I was producing Keyflow and he was one of three of four I decided to put on a plane and bring over.”

Unlike the other horses Tim had been moving over, Keyflow wasn’t yet a Badminton or Burghley contender — instead, Tim had spotted a trend in the market that could suit his talented gelding.

“The last event I did with him in New Zealand, he did just enough to show that he had a bit of talent and was willing to be good enough,” he says. “The plan was very vague: I knew that there was apparently a market for New Zealand Thoroughbreds in the Northern Hemisphere, and he was the perfect example of a Kiwi Thoroughbred. He was sensitive, light, athletic, a great galloper and jumper, so I wanted to get him over and produce him to Advanced and four-star.”

“This was really the ducking and diving period of our careers, and he was one that we owned 100%, so of course he was always one we were thinking we could make a bit of money out of just to survive. So after Boekelo, we put him on the market — and although he went through a couple of riders before he got to Tim, it was really a cool experience to follow them once he did. It was the first time I’d been able to watch a horse I’d sold going under the hands and guidance of another top rider. That was fun.”

Like Tim Lips, Tim Price found something unique in Keyflow: he had the scope, ability, and brains to make even the toughest challenges feel manageable, setting a high bar for later horses to follow.

“I think he just found it easy at every level, and that’s always a fun thing to have in any horse. At that point, we thought that was something that was quite normal, but we’d since learned that that’s not always the case,” he says. “He was probably more limited by me being early in my senior career and not really knowing how to train a horse, especially in the dressage side and the jumping, although he was a good jumper. There’s definitely a few rails on his record that he wouldn’t have had if I’d known a bit more as a rider.”

“I always thought of him as a very beautiful horse; he moved better than your average Thoroughbred and he was very sensitive and light in the hand, but I liked that. He was just a pleasure to ride every day, and he did something for us, which was what we came over with in our pocket. It paid our debts, and it helped us stay alive for a bit longer. It gave us more solid footing, and a bit of a breather. It was so, so important for us.”

The Price family went on to commemorate Keyflow in a way that certainly lives on in the UK: Tim’s brother, Cam, runs feed company Keyflow, which sponsors a number of riders and events, giving the gelding a truly unique legacy in the sport.

Keyflow says hi, making this overtired journalist very happy indeed. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Remarkably, Keyflow continued to compete at the top level until he was twenty years old, bowing out from international eventing at Boekelo CCIO4*-L in 2016 with a top twenty finish. The busy-brained Thoroughbred wasn’t ready to hang up his horseshoes just yet, though: he continued to compete in 1.10m jumping classes for the next couple of seasons.

“Then we said, ‘okay, he’s 22 — we need to let him enjoy the field’,” says Tim Lips, who turned him out with then-25-year-old Oncarlos and another retiree. It wasn’t a success. “He really didn’t like it. The other two horses were together and then he’d only be walking the fence, like ‘I want to come in’, even though the old horses always come in at night.”

Tim and his team rejigged the situation, putting Keyflow in the paddocks reserved for competition horse turnout.

“If he was there between the competition horses, it was fine — he just felt like it was what he was used to, and he wanted to stay there,” says Tim. In 2020, though, the situation took a turn for the worse: Keyflow developed a problem with his left eye, losing much of his vision.

“He wasn’t totally blind on it, but he didn’t see so good, which he really struggled with in the beginning. We had a moment where we thought, ‘what shall we do with him?’ He wasn’t eating so well at the time, and he didn’t look well, and then I had a staff member who said, ‘well, why don’t you just put him down?’ I think they didn’t know how special he was; of course, you never want them to suffer, but I also wanted to give him a chance to live out his retirement.”

The solution came, as it so often does, in finding a solid female life-partner: Keyflow was turned out with four-star mare Wadolca, who’d been retired at fourteen after an injury, and the pair bonded immediately. Then, he got a second ‘girlfriend’ in the form of a young mare owned by Tim’s head girl Jillian Giessen, and after meeting her over the fence line, he was a new horse completely: “he’s sometimes screaming like a three-year-old stallion for her; you think, ‘where has this horse come from?!’ He never did this before.”

 

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“At the age of 26, we had to let go of our very precious Keyflow,” writes Tim Lips in a statement on his social media channels. “He was known to the public for his great achievements, and personally, our strong bond together was the most special thing. I am so grateful to him that he gave us that. Thank you, Keyflow, and a special thank you to his owner Peter Eck for this unforgettable time.”

Getting the chance to see Keyflow living his best life as a pervy old man with a very young girlfriend was truly one of the highlights of this journalist’s year last summer, and all of us here at Team EN send our most heartfelt condolences to Tim Lips and Tim Price, and all those connected with this one-of-a-kind Thoroughbred who had such an enormous heart. We hear there are no left-handed corners in horsey heaven, old boy.

Tuesday News & Notes from Ocala Horse Properties

We’re welcoming a new Tuesday News & Notes sponsor this week: Ocala Horse Properties! We’ve enjoyed working with Chris and Rob Desino through the years and are proud to welcome Ocala Horse Properties back to EN as your official source for property, farms, and beyond in Ocala, Wellington, and other horse-centric areas of Florida.

We’ll have much more coming your way from Ocala Horse Properties in the coming weeks, but for now a very hearty congratulations goes out to Chris Desino and Dilan Bower on their wedding in an absolute drop-dead stunning location: Aspen, Colorado. The wedding looks to have been a proper celebration in the mountains and we absolutely need more photos immediately.

Events Opening This Week: WindRidge Farm Summer H.T.Fair Hill International Recognized H.T.Otter Creek Summer H.T.GMHA Festival of Eventing August H.T.

Events Closing This Week: Applewood Farm YEH/FEH & Mini EventChampagne Run at the Park H.T.The Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm

Ocala Horse Properties Dream Farm of the Day:

Photo courtesy of MLS / Ocala Horse Properties.

A 5 acre farm-to-be just a short way from the famous World Equestrian Center – Ocala awaits your dreams, already equipped with an incredible house and a pool, and ready to build your dream barn and bring the horses home.

Tuesday News & Notes from Around the World:

You’ve no doubt encountered genetic testing when looking at horses for sale or stud. But although we’ve relied on the same tests for many years to spot the likes of PSSM, are they actually accurate and helpful or simply flagging up red herrings? [Find out here]

They don’t always get the attention and headlines they deserve, but our sport’s owners are a pretty cool bunch. Meet Steve and Vicki Sukup, who own a thriving business, a Belmont Stakes winner –  and shares in Renkum Corsair, the exciting mount of Elisa Wallace. [They always bet on the rider]

We’ve all embarrassed ourselves at some point while competing. (If I’m honest, I do so pretty much every time I go out in one way or another – like the time I went to walk my course and fell flat on my arse in the mud right in front of the busy dressage warm-up, and then Francis Whittington asked me if I’d poo’d myself again every time I saw him for MONTHS.) Anyway, take some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone – the pros have got some pretty good blunders to their name, too. [Oops, I did it again – horse edition]

Though we’re still mourning the loss of Ireland’s Tattersalls International, the George Mernagh Fund is about to be put to very good use. Created in honour of its namesake, the founder of that great event, it’s now being used to provide training bursaries to young riders to help bolster Ireland’s eventing legacy. [Check this out if you’re young and Irish]

Ever wondered what it’s like to work for Aachen champion and all-around good egg Will Coleman? Tag along with head groom Erin Jarboe for the day and see what she gets up to. [Bring coffee.]

Watch This:

Elisa Wallace catches us up on a weekend practicing at Barnstaple South with Capo dei Capi:

Be sure to follow Ocala Horse Properties on Instagram for much more #dreamfarm envy:

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

 

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Happy Monday to everyone, but especially to Jennie Brannigan, who picked herself up a tan, a diamond, and a fiancé over the weekend. Honestly, #goals.

National Holiday: It’s National Insurance Awareness Day. We have reached peak boring holidays.

US Weekend Action:

Fox River Valley H.T. (Barrington, IL): [Website] [Results]

Horse Park of New Jersey H.T. I (Allentown, NJ): [Website] [Results]

Inavale Farm H.T. (Philomath, OR): [Website] [Results]

Larkin Hill H.T. (North Chatham, NY): [Website] [Results]

Loudoun Hunt Pony Club Summer H.T. (Leesburg, Va.): [Website] [Results]

Midsouth Pony Club H.T. (Lexington, KY): [Website] [Results]

Stable View Summer H.T. / Area III Championships (Aiken, SC): [Website] [Results]

Valinor Farm H.T. (Plymouth, MA): [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Results:

Alnwick Ford (1): [Results]

Eland Lodge (2): [Results]

Farley Hall: [Results]

Launceston (1): [Results]

Global Eventing Round-Up:

The major focal point of the weekend’s global events was Poland’s LOTTO Strzegom Horse Trials, which hosted classes all the way through to CCI4*-L, as well as a CCIO4*-S Nations Cup leg, which was duly won by the home nation. The individual win in the CCIO4*-S also went the way of Poland, with Matieusz Kiempa leading from start to finish with Libertina.

Switzerland’s Robin Godel continued his incredible season with a victory in the CCI4*-L class, riding the exciting Global DHI, while Tim Price took second with the former Chris Burton ride Polystar I, and Italy’s Emiliano Portale took third with one of my personal favourite young horses on the scene, Aracne dell’Esercito Italiano. Just ten of the 18 starters completed this tough class, and it was a truly international line-up to finish, with Jonelle Price and Faerie Magnifico taking fourth and the USA’s Katherine Coleman rounding out the top five with Monbeg Senna.

LOTTO Strzegom Horse Trials: [Website] [Results]

Your Monday Reading List:

It was an exciting weekend for our friends in the world of showjumping, as Ireland’s Shane Breen took his first ever victory in the Hickstead Derby on the class’s 60th anniversary. Even more special? He lives on-site and is married into the Bunn family, who started and continue to run this iconic show. We love watching this class, which combines the best of top-level jumping with something rather more akin to cross-country. [Some lad, that Shane Breen]

Mary King, who broke several ribs, vertebrae, and a shoulder blade in a fall at home recently, is doing well. She’s up and about at home, getting on with errands and already contemplating a return to one of her favourite hobbies, tennis. [Does this woman not have pain receptors?]

Poland made it happen in their home leg of the FEI Nations Cup series at Strzegom over the weekend. Their super performances prove that this ‘developing’ eventing nation have got an awful lot going for them — and the Austrians, too, continued to excited throughout the competition. [We love watching these countries thrive]

The FEI has been honoured as one of the leading international sporting governing bodies. This accolade comes from the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, which, rather curiously, decides who’s earned a nod based on self-assessments from each body. The ASOIF also proves our long-held belief that if something exists, you better believe there’s an organisation for it. [Is that Rule 34? Oh, wait, that’s something else]

The FutureTrack Follow:

 

 

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Want to keep up to date with life on the road with the Polish eventing squad? Give team member Janek Kamiński a follow!

Morning Viewing:

Check out Shane Breen’s winning ride over the Hickstead Derby course:

Defending Olympic + WEG Champion Great Britain Announces 15 Nominated Entries for World Championships

Tokyo individual silver / team gold medalists Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

All eyes will remain steadily fixed on the British as we hurtle toward September’s FEI World Championships for Eventing, hosted along with the Worlds for Driving in Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy. This morning, British Eventing has announced the 15 nominated entries it will send to the FEI ahead of the final team selection coming in August.

Appearing amongst the nominated entries is the full team from Tokyo, consisting of individual silver medalist Tom McEwen with Fred and Penny Barker, Jane Coppell and Alison McEwen’s Toledo de Kerser, 2022 Badminton winner Laura Collett with Karen Bartlett, Keith Scott and her own London 52, and three-time Kentucky winner Oliver Townend with Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan’s Ballaghmor Class as well as Paul and Diana Ridgeon’s Swallow Springs.

The Tryon 2018 team is also 75% represented on this short list, with reigning individual World champion Ros Canter nominated with her Tryon partner, Caroline Moore and her own Allstar B, as well as the superbly impressive Michele Saul’s Lordships Graffalo, who finished second at Badminton in May at just 10 years old, and Kate James and Annie Mackin’s Pencos Crown Jewel, who was just second in the Bramham 4*-L.

Tryon team members Piggy March (Trevor Dickens’ Vanir Kamira) and Tom McEwen are also nominated on the short list.

Also nominated with a shot at WEG is Kentucky runner-up and winner-of-everything-as-a-junior Yasmin Ingham with Jannette Chinn and Sue Davies’ Banzai Du Loir, as well as Rolex Grand Slam winner Pippa Funnell with Marek Sebestak and her own Majas Hope and three-time Kentucky winner William Fox-Pitt with Jennifer Dowling and his own Little Fire.

Great Britain’s team gold at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

This short list is among, if not the, strongest we will see, depth-wise, ahead of Worlds this fall, proving once again that the British system of development is working.

The full list of nominated eventing athletes is as follows:

  • Sarah Bullimore with The Kew Jumping Syndicate, Brett Bullimore and her own Corouet
  • Ros Canter with Caroline Moore and her own Allstar B, Michele Saul’s Lordships Graffalo, and Kate James and Annie Mackin’s Pencos Crown Jewel
  • Kirsty Chabert with John Johnston and Carole Somers’ Classic VI
  • Laura Collett with Karen Bartlett, Keith Scott and her own London 52
  • William Fox-Pitt with Jennifer Dowling and his own Little Fire
  • Pippa Funnell with Marek Sebestak and her own Majas Hope
  • Yasmin Ingham with Jannette Chinn and Sue Davies’ Banzai Du Loir
  • Kitty King with Diana Bown, Sally Eyre, Samantha Wilson and Sally Lloyd-Baker’s Vendredi Biats
  • Piggy March with Trevor Dickens’ Vanir Kamira
  • Tom McEwen with Fred and Penny Barker, Jane Coppell and Alison McEwen’s Toledo de Kerser
  • Izzy Taylor with Mark Sartori and her own Monkeying Around
  • Oliver Townend with Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan’s Ballaghmor Class, and Paul and Diana Ridgeon’s Swallow Springs

The final deadline for nominated entries – effectively, the shortlist – and certificates of capability, which prove that nominated combinations have the required qualifications, is August 15, while the final deadline for definite entries will be September 5.

‘Tis the season for shortlists and, before too long, full team announcements — be sure you’re following us both here on EN as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more breaking news from around the world of eventing.

Wednesday Video from Zoetis: Courtney Carson’s Got Wings (Vandiver Wings, That Is!)

 

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We’ve seen rather a lot of top-level horses step back from the spotlight this season – but in the case of Doug Payne‘s stalwart partner Vandiver, the spotlight is certainly continuing to follow him in his ‘retirement’. That’s because he’s not quite walking away from the sport — instead, he’s teaming up with Doug’s longtime travelling groom Courtney Carson to go kick some ass and take some names a couple of levels down. And because Doug and Courtney and jolly good eggs generally, we’ve been given a very cool sneak peek into how they’re getting on in training — which has included Courtney’s biggest jumps in five years. Get it, girl!

A long career (and, more importantly, a long and healthy life) is always a goal for our horses. Ask your veterinarian about Zoetis’s line-up of health support options that can help support your horse for a long-lasting and comfortable career and life.

Who Jumped it Best? The Luhmühlen Longines Water Edition

Who Jumped It Best?

The first water in Luhmühlen’s CCI5* track is also one of its biggest challenges. After jumping three straightforward single fences, without much in the way of spectators around, horses and riders travel for a long period through the twists and turns of the forest, before turning downhill and popping fence 4, a large rolltop. As they jump that, they come face to face with a wall of buzzy fans, and an optically busy water complex, which also houses a line of questions for the CCI4*-S class. Many horses lose focus and make mistakes here, either because they’re put off by the crowds and grind to a halt at one of the fences, or because they never quite get their eye on their next fence and have a drive-by.

Today’s Who Jumped it Best? question focuses on the fence after that beefy rolltop. Fence 5A is a big, intimidating upright brush, which has a dry take-off and lands you directly in the pond. From there, riders need to quickly get their horses’ eyes on the line out over another pair of brushes. Doing so requires a controlled landing, rock-solid focus, and plenty of impulsion to get over the next two jumps.

With all that in mind, take a look at our five contenders, and then scroll down to cast your vote for the pair you think made the best effort over this tough A element.

Peter Flarup and Fascination. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Philippa Cross and Scoop de Ferbet. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Niklas Lindback and Focus Filiocus. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Giulio Guglielmi and Uhlan de l’Epine. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Longines Luhmühlen CCI5*: EN’s Ultimate GuideWebsiteCCI5* Final ScoresCCI4*-S Final ScoresH&C+ Live Stream ReplaysEN’s CoverageEN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

Tuesday News & Notes from Kentucky Performance Products

 

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One of my favourite parts of covering a three-day event is seeing how much love, care, and attention the horses’ grooms impart through the week. Not only do these grooms have to anticipate their horses’ needs, be on the watch constantly for any tiny issues, make them look and feel perfect, and plan every minute of the day to maximise their charges’ success, they also often have to act almost as sports psychologists and personal assistants to their riders. One groom who’s consistently nailed the brief over the years is Lena Steger, longtime head groom to Michael Jung, and we were delighted to see that her belief in Highlighter paid off so marvellously in Luhmühlen’s CCI4*-S.

Events Opening Today: Flora Lea Farm YEH and Mini EventHoosier Horse TrialsSpring Gulch H.T.River Glen Summer H.T.Cobblestone Farms H.T. IICatalpa Corner Charity Horse Trials

Events Closing Today: Woodloch Stable Young Event Horse QualifierGenesee Valley Hunt H.T.Round Top H.T.Huntington Farm H.T.Chattahoochee Hills H.T.The Maryland International + Horse TrialsSummer Coconino HT and Western Underground, Inc. TR,N,BN 3 Day Event, Arrowhead H.T.

Tuesday News & Notes from Around the World:

It’s pretty easy to assume that the general public finds horse sport as captivating as we do — or, at worst, simply doesn’t pay attention to it at all. But World Horse Welfare, a leading charity devoted to improving the lives of horses, is doing a deep-dive into a survey that reveals that 20% of people don’t think horses should be used for sport at all. It’s an interesting — and sobering — development as we continue the conversation about social license to ride. [Is this the tipping point for better conditions?]

There are all sorts of pathways into eventing. For Florida-based teen Ben Noonan, who won the USEA Young Rider of the Year title in 2020, the gateway to the sport he now competes in was pony hunters, believe it or not. [We wonder if he still calls a round a ‘trip’]

Hacking space comes at a premium, and safe bridlepaths are becoming a rarity. So how can road users best share the limited space we’ve all got access to? [Here’s some thoughts]

Sustainability is one of equestrian sport’s new watchwords, and so it’s exciting and heartening to see 60,000 trees planted in the area around Herning, Denmark, where this year’s World Championships for Jumping and Dressage will take place. The best bit? That’s just the tip of the iceberg where environmentally-conscious planning is concerned with these Championships. [Herning goes green]

Watch This:

British Eventing CEO Helen West, William Fox-Pitt, Lucinda Green, and Badminton course designer Eric Winter sit down to discuss the importance of cross-country, and how we can ensure it remains at the heart of the sport — without going too far.

Felix Vogg Records First Swiss Five-Star Win Since 1951; Michael Jung Retains National Title

Felix Vogg and Colero record an important victory for Switzerland. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s a real risk that comes with entering an event that falls on your birthday: either you get very lucky and have a good week, probably culminating in a sweaty, sleepy beer in a tent in a field somewhere, or it goes truly, spectacularly wrong, and you trudge home a bit more battered and bruised than you were before, wishing you’d never bothered in the first place.

Switzerland’s Felix Vogg has met both scenarios head on. Last year, he brought twelve-year-old Montelibretti CCI4*-L winner Cayenne to Luhmühlen to contest the CCI4*-S Meßmer Trophy, but ultimately had to withdraw before the final horse inspection after the mare picked up an injury on cross-country, from which she still hasn’t returned to international competition. There’s no doubt this was in the back of his mind as he made his entry for this week’s CCI5*, but understated Felix isn’t one for dramatic emotional displays or histrionics — and so he headed into the competition with fourteen-year-old Colero with a calm pragmatism that has stayed in place all week, right up until the point that he completed his fast clear showjumping round to secure his first-ever five-star victory on his 32nd birthday.

“Last year I didn’t have a good birthday here, because my horse got an injury, but today he paid it back — it’s crazy and amazing,” says Felix, who finished sixth at Kentucky with the Westfalian gelding in 2019 after a stint spent training in the USA with Phillip Dutton and Ann Kursinski. That move came as part of a concerted effort to prepare for the 2018 World Equestrian Games, held in Tryon, North Carolina that year, and demonstrate Felix’s dedication to his ongoing education — a dedication that’s paying off in spades now.

Felix Vogg and Colero pick their way through Marco Behrens’s tough track. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Felix and Colero’s week began with a 29 dressage, which was enough to put them into fourth place at the close of the first phase. Then, after a morning full of issues on Mike Etherington-Smith’s cross-country course yesterday, they delivered one of nine clear rounds inside the time to move up into the lead, capitalising on the downward trajectory of most of their competitors. But their lead was a slim one: they came into today’s finale just one-tenth of a penalty ahead of second-place Tim Price and Vitali, and just one rail covered the top seven on the leaderboard. Felix knew he’d have to go clear — but he also knew that his gelding, who’d had a rail at Kentucky, a rail at the 2018 WEG, and two rails at the Tokyo Olympics, wasn’t always going to find this phase the easiest.

In its own way, though, accepting his horse’s weaknesses allowed him to remove a lot of the pressure of the situation, because he’d already decided to celebrate no matter what happened — and because he knew that whatever came before his round, he would never end up with a rail in hand.

“I knew that already yesterday, because it’s not normal that six [competitors] would knock a fence down, so I knew I had to ride clear. But I just knew he can do it,” says Felix. “I think it took the pressure off — I wasn’t nervous at all, because I knew that even if he didn’t go clear, he’d still have a top placing, and that’s already more than I could ask for.”

Taking the pressure away wasn’t just an important part of getting his own mindset right — it was also crucial for ensuring his quirky, talented gelding was ready to perform at his best.

“You have to have him as your friend,” explains Felix. “He can be like a dog, but he can also be like a total princess, and if you don’t push him to make a mistake, or you don’t go against him in the warm up, he doesn’t [end up making] a mistake in the ring. If you keep him happy and confident, then he’s trying his hardest.”

Felix Vogg and Colero: “he can be like a dog, or he can be a princess.” Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sometimes, though, the dream pays off — and it did today for Felix. Despite a couple of audible taps, each of the rails on Marco Behrens’s notoriously tough track stayed in their cups, and Felix became the first Swiss rider to take a five-star victory since 1951, when Hans Schwarzenbach won Badminton aboard Vae Victis. (You can choose to take it as coincidence or good omen that one of Hans’s greatest successes after that five-star win was a team silver medal at the 1960 Olympics, which were held at Pratoni.)

Felix Vogg celebrates with supporters after his round. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

 

Felix’s victory comes as the latest in a string of Swiss successes, which have made the squad — who arguably one of eventing’s developing nations — a real hot topic in the sport over the last year or so. Their successes this year alone have included individual and team victory in the Pratoni Nations Cup and World Championships test event this spring, and certainly, the squad has flourished under the watchful eye of cross-country coach Andrew Nicholson.

But it would be remiss to suggest that Felix’s win this week is closely intertwined with the success of the nation he rides for. He keeps a separate system, choosing to train with his own coaches – Bettina Hoy on the flat, German team jumping trainer Marcus Döring over fences, and former mentor Michael Jung for cross-country – after some irreconcilable differences arose in the team camp during last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“For years now, I’ve had my own team, a little bit, so it means even more,” says Felix, who nevertheless remains available for Swiss selection, and will ride on the team at CHIO Aachen in two weeks time as part of the selection process for the World Championships in September. There, he hopes to ride his European Championships mount Cartania, rather than his five-star-winning partner, demonstrating an enviable level of depth in his string.

Kirsty Chabert’s Badminton redemption arc results in a second place finish with Classic VI. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There was more than enough drama in the lead-up to Felix’s round that anyone would have forgiven him for succumbing to nerves, but that’s rather part and parcel of Luhmühlen: its showjumping phase is arguably the most difficult in the sport, with tight, jumper-y turns and tricky technical lines and distances, including a double on a related distance to another double this year. It walks and rides like a full-up 1.30m pure showjumping track, rather than an eventing showjumping track, and as a result, we always see considerable influence exerted on Sunday here — both in jumping penalties and time faults, as competitors struggle to make the tough optimum time. In fact, just three of the 21 starters would record totally penalty-free rounds. Felix, of course, was one, and second-placed Kirsty Chabert, who leapt upwards from eleventh after dressage and fourth after cross-country, was another.

“It’s been a whirlwind — she’s been fantastic throughout all three phases,” says Kirsty, who finished on her dressage score of 31.1 to complete her Badminton redemption arc, which saw the pair reroute after picking up three late run-outs in the pathfinder position. Yesterday, though, the thirteen-year-old British-bred mare looked none the worse for wear after her issues at the Gloucestershire venue, and came home a full eight seconds inside the optimum time.

“I had a phenomenal ride on her on cross-country, and actually, I was quite a long way down on my minutes. I came out of the last water and looked at my watch — I’m not a very good timekeeper! — and thought, ‘oh god, I’m a fair way down!’, so I put a bit of leg on her, and off she went.”

Playing catch-up didn’t appear to leave any residual fatigue behind, and Classic bounded her way around the showjumping track today for an easy clear — which put Kirsty in the enviable position of watching the competitors ahead of her fall by the wayside.

“She’s a very, very good jumper; if she has a fence, I have to put my hand up and take full responsibility for it,” says Kirsty. As she went into the ring, though, she was unaware of all the issues the course had caused, nor of the fact that just one rider had managed to jump clear and make the time: “I hadn’t heard anybody — I stayed away, and I didn’t watch anybody,” she says. “I tried to just stick to my plan with her, which was to ride her like a go-kart, or like a pony. That’s how she likes to be ridden.”

Though Kirsty has had the ride on the mare throughout her career, Classic VI isn’t a homebred like the rest of her string — but nevertheless, the pair know one another inside and out, which gave them a useful crutch of communication to rely on this weekend.

“She was bred by Peter Charles, the show jumper, and she’s always been a beautiful mare, but she’s extremely quirky,” says Kirsty. “She’s not a fan of multiple things — vets, farriers, men. She’s very comfortable in her own team, but for her to accept somebody new and to trust somebody is the hardest thing. She’s a mare, so it all comes on her terms. But she’s always had all the beauty, charisma, and ability — it was just a case of harnessing everything. You always dream of the great results, and for me, this is my biggest achievement. It’s been a big team effort from everyone at home to keep her in a happy place — she spends most of her time hacking around the New Forest getting ice cream and enjoying life.”

Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo put a run of bad luck behind them to take third. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It feels rather a long time ago since Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo won the CCI5* here in 2018, and in many ways, it’s looked as though the seventeen-year-old British-bred mare hit her uppermost peak then, with a number of noncompletions at the level on her record in the years since. But, says her rider, she’s remained as good as she ever was: “She’s just had a few unlucky years,” says Jonelle, who added just 0.4 time today to move from first-phase 14th and second-phase 6th to a final third place. “In 2019 at Burghley she had a reaction to a jab in her neck and wasn’t quite right, and then last year here I had a stupid crash. She hasn’t really been off form, but we just haven’t had a clean run – and she only does one big event a year, because she’s made of glass, so when you only do one a year and you fuck your chance, it’s a long old way to the next!”

Last year’s issue, which came at a single table fence in the latter stages of the course and saw both horse and rider fall after a slight peck on landing, was the one blot in the mare’s Luhmühlen copybook: now, their record at the German fixture consists of a first, second, third “and a little faceplant,” laughs Jonelle, “so it was nice to come back this year and set the record straight, and she deserved every ounce of the podium finish.”

This could well be the last time we see the extravagant mare at this level, because Jonelle has always been keen to ensure her horses get to bow out of the spotlight on a positive note.

“It’s kind of a relief, and just a pleasure to have her here, because she’s been such a phenomenal mare. She went Advanced when she was eight — she did the CCI4*-L at Blenheim at eight and won the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S there as a nine-year-old, so she’s been a pretty special mare. It’s nice to finish up on a good one,” says Jonelle. That ‘good one’ did take some fighting for, though. The pair climbed from 14th place after dressage, having delivered a 31.6 that certainly isn’t out of character, but is also miles off the 27.1 she posted when winning here four years ago.

“As much as she’s brilliant in every respect, she’s a right madam and she’s as hot as you like,” explains Jonelle. “So the dressage is quite hard work, and it’s not because she’s not capable. She can easily go from an 8 or a 9 to a 3 or a 4, and I’m afraid that’s just her. Even though she’s seventeen years of age, she’s not got any better. We sort of managed to keep a lid on it on Friday, but certainly when I was stood in the prize giving, I couldn’t help but think what might have been.”

The ‘what might have beens’ can go both ways, though.

“In theory, she should be able to go out there and make a pretty tidy job of cross-country, but last year, I had a silly mistake and paid a pretty heavy price, so you can never rest on your laurels. It was a relief, really, to tick the box and do all the right things, and she gave me a really lovely ride. She’s a little bit unorthodox; I think she’s got double-jointed front limbs or something, because you see one leg up there and one leg up there, but you know that she’s always fighting for the fence and looking for the flags. I always liken her to a tumble dryer — you sort of just sit on top and get rocked around, but she’s always trying to do the right thing.”

In today’s final phase, she had to use every last ounce of her pony power to come home without knocking a rail, and she did so happily, looking as though yesterday’s efforts had barely touched the sides.

“She’s not very big — she’s probably all of 15.3hh, and she’s petite enough that she wears pony tack,” says Jonelle. “She’s seventeen now, so she doesn’t often come out particularly sprightly, and we’re surrounded by all these younger horses jumping these massive fences, and I’m tiptoeing down to my 1.10m vertical. But I know her so well, and I know she’s going to go in the ring and fight for me — and sure enough, once she’s over the first fence she was like, ‘oh, crikey, that’s big!’ And then she takes it up a gear and fights her way around.”

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus add another five-star top ten finish to their record, taking fourth place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The USA’s Lauren Nicholson and Jacqueline Mars’s 15-year-old Anglo Arab Vermiculus have been playing Chutes and Ladders with the leaderboard through the week: they began in second place behind Bubby Upton and Cannavaro on their first-phase score of 26.7, then dropped to seventh after ‘Bug’ opted to trot in a few combinations on yesterday’s cross-country track, adding 5.2 time penalties in the process. Today, though, he dug deep to find his way over every one of the big, square oxers and airy uprights on the track, and Lauren was able to use his diminutive size and enviable power to purr through the inside lines, coming home just two seconds over the 85 seconds of allowed time to finish fourth.

“It’s his seventh five-star, and he tried his guts out,” says Lauren, who’s previously piloted the gelding to top-ten finishes at Burghley and Kentucky. “The bigger the atmosphere, the better he is; he knows when it’s an occasion and he tries a little harder.”

Luhmühlen certainly delivers an atmosphere: with its colourful banners, dramatic musical introductions for each rider, and close, keen crowds, it creates a real pressure cooker environment that horses either thrive or wilt in — but in any case, it’s always an enormous educational opportunity. Not that experienced Bug needed an education, mind you: for Lauren, this was just another golden opportunity to prove that the gelding can cope with huge pressure and tough conditions. And unlike many of his competitors, who looked tired after yesterday’s efforts in the oppressive heat, Bug was fit and fresh today.

“That’s when you love to have a little Arabian,” laughs Lauren, who has spent the winter training with Australian show jumper Scott Keach. “We’ve been doing a lot of 1.40s and mini-prixs and stuff, so that all paid off. Scott also flew in this weekend just to help us with the showjumping, which was really nice of him, and it made a big difference. The sport’s just gotten to that level: you have to be a specialist in all three phases, and I think it’s going to keep going more in that direction.”

Scott, who previously evented at the Olympics before returning nearly three decades on to compete in the showjumping there, has helped to consolidate Lauren’s warm-up into a low-quantity, high-quality system that keeps her horses fresh and ready to give their all in the ring.

“He hasn’t changed a lot about my warm-up, but he and David [O’Connor] have kind of the same philosophy. Scott understands that you’re not going to have a show jumper on the Sunday; you have to work with what you have, and he’s very into just doing a couple of jumps — especially with these guys that know their jobs. You’re just trying to get the right shape and the right feel before you go in, so it’s just five or six good jumps and not wasting any jumps on a Sunday.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver pin down their best five-star result, taking fifth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver ensured there’d be two Americans in the top ten after delivering the first clear round inside the time of the day to an enormous tumult of applause. That boosted them back up to fifth place, where they’d been after dressage, though 6 time penalties had dropped them to tenth after cross-country. For Liz, who has long had Luhmühlen in mind for the eleven-year-old, it’s been an enormously positive, affirmative experience to bring him here and feel him thrive in the circumstances.

“He’s still a relatively young horse, and he just tried his guts out for me the entire time,” says Liz, who rides him for the Monster Partnership, formed by the Desino brothers of Ocala Horse Properties. “He was just incredible today; being one of only three clear and inside the time is amazing, and he really rose to the occasion — I think it’s the best round he’s ever jumped.”

Yesterday’s 6 time penalties came, in hindsight, from nursing the young horse rather more than he necessarily needed, though Liz doesn’t regret the education he received, nor the fact-finding she was able to do on course — especially in the tough conditions.

“He’s recovered incredibly well, which is really cool after a hot day yesterday,” she says. “It’s his first Luhmühlen, and I’d love to bring him back next year, because another year stronger and I think I’ll be able to make the time on him. I’ve got to sort of knife in a little bit more, but I’m thrilled with him right now — he couldn’t have tried any harder. He’s a momentum horse, and you’ve got to ride him that way. I think I’ve always looked after him a bit at things like the big oxers, because he’s not a power horse, he’s more of an athletic type, so I’ve always had to package him. But at a few of the fences yesterday I sort of thought, ‘I don’t think he needs that anymore!’ So maybe I overdid it where I didn’t need to — now, I’m taking that away with me, and next time I’ll roll him in a little more and just trust him a little more to get the job done.”

Kylie Roddy earns herself a top ten at five-star, less than a year after stepping up to the level. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kylie Roddy only stepped up to five-star at Pau last October, where she finished in an impressive eleventh place with the consistent, kind SRS Kan Do — and now, after pulling up late on course at Badminton due to a lost front shoe, she, like Kirsty Chabert, has chased down redemption in Germany. Though she did pull a rail at fence seven, she was delighted to very nearly finish on her 31.4 dressage, giving her the top-ten five-star placing that some riders spend a lifetime chasing.

“The rail was completely my fault, so I feel like I let him down a bit, because he was jumping his little socks off,” says Kylie. “But for me, I think I just don’t have enough experience in the final phase — I don’t go showjumping in the winter or anything, and so actually, I probably need to do a little bit of self-reflection!”

Kylie rides ‘George’ for the Fox family, whose son, Michael, initially piloted the horse at the lower levels before securing a role in Downton Abbey, which meant that he couldn’t risk a riding injury. Over the last number of years, Kylie and George have built up a super relationship, and every competition becomes a vital building block as they navigate the unfamiliar terrain of the upper echelons of sport together.

“I’m always proud of him,” she says with a smile. “At Badminton, when the shoe came off, I thought, ‘well, I can’t not be happy with him, because everything’s done is so good’. We controlled the controllables, but the uncontrollables got us that day,” she says. “I keep calling that his ‘five-star short’ — and then we came here and capitalised on that.”

With an enormous accomplishment in the bag, Kylie wants to encourage other riders to keep plugging away at their biggest dreams: “I hope I can be an inspiration to people like me, because it’s taken me a long time to get here,” she says.

Fiona Kashel and debutant WSF Carthago take seventh after a steady clear. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We know which lorry we’d like to be in on the way back to England tonight: “Fiona Kashel and I came down together, and we’re both forty this year, so we’re the Naughty and Forty lorry,” laughs Kylie. “And our horses are the same age — they both ended up at Le Lion together as seven-year-olds, and we bought them both from Richard Sheane’s [Cooley Farm]. And both of our grooms are the same age, too — I was like, ‘this is really freaky! There are too many things in parallel!'”

We’re a firm believer that you’ve got to take the good omens as they come, and Kylie and Fiona certainly did: “we’ve had a scream together all week,” they tell us, but they also finished next to one another in the standings. Fiona took seventh place with her five-star debutant WSF Carthago, climbing from overnight eleventh after romping across the finish just two seconds over the time allowed.

“The showjumping would definitely be my strongest phase, and he does a good job, but anything can happen and I think that’s why I have time penalties on cross-country and showjumping — because I want to be on the perfect stride,” says Fiona, who made her five-star debut at Badminton this spring with another horse.

“Badminton was my childhood dream, but this week is different — but the best week of eventing,” she continues. “Like, Badminton was the best because it’s the lifetime of dreaming, but this has definitely been my best week of the ‘non-lifetime dreams’!”

Fiona’s meticulously prepared warm-up was disrupted by the day’s sole freak accident: Great Britain’s David Doel, who was in the ring ahead of Fiona and jumping for thirteenth place with Ferro Point, was forced to leave his horse’s breastplate off today as the result of some harmless bruising that would have been aggravated by the tack. About halfway through his round, his saddle started to slide backwards, and though he made an extraordinary effort of maintaining his balance and composure, a twisting jump over the penultimate fence skewed the saddle to the side, and he was thrown as his horse jumped the final fence. It would take several achingly long minutes before a panicked Ferro Point could be caught, which meant that Fiona had to think on her feet in the ring.

“My horse would be one of those where he has a switch, and then he just goes,” says Fiona. “So I walked into the other warm-up area and just had a walk around, and then I did one big oxer — and actually, I didn’t jump that big of an oxer before I’d planned to go in, butI saw Liz Halliday-Sharp jump a massive oxer, I was like, ‘should I do a big one?!’ Then David had his fall and I went for it. And now I’ve finished in the top ten at a five-star — how incredible is that?!”

Tim Price’s debutant duo of Spartaco and Vitali both finish within the top ten. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Oliver Townend, who had both debutants in the top ten last night after coming home clear and inside the time on each, finished eighth with Lukas, who knocked the third fence but didn’t change his place on the leaderboard, while Dreamliner, who had been third overnight, slipped to twelfth after pulling four rails, including the first element of each double and the middle element of the treble combination. Likewise, Tim Price, second overnight by a tenth of a penalty with Vitali, knocked three rails and picked up 2.4 time penalties to slide to tenth place, while his other debutant ride, Spartaco, added just 0.8 time and climbed from twelfth to ninth.

We saw a jolly group of completions for the North American crew today: Matt Flynn and Wizzerd delivered an excellent, stylish clear for 0.8 time penalties and seventeenth place, while Canada’s Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes tipped fence eight and added 1.6 time penalties to finish fourteenth.

The final top ten in Luhmühlen’s CCI5*.

Michael Jung wins the Meßmer Trophy for the third time. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This afternoon’s CCI4*-S Meßmer Trophy also exerted its fair share of influence, though the course was redesigned for this class. Two horses were withdrawn between the final horse inspection and the start of showjumping, bringing the field down to 38 competitors — and of those, just six jumped clear and inside the time. Ultimately, it would be overnight leader Michael Jung who would take the win, and the German national championship title, for the third time on a third different horse. His mount this week, the eleven-year-old Highlighter, has been jointly produced by himself and former stable rider Pietro Grandis, and over the last season, we’ve seen him really blossom into a consistent, formidable competitor.

Michael Jung’s Highlighter steps up to the big leagues. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

That growth was put to the test today.

“The course here is so challenging, partly because of the big atmosphere, and partly because the ground in the arena isn’t actually that level — it’s a bit uphill and a bit downhill,” says Michael, who won this class with fischerChipmunk last year. “It’s not much of a slope, but it changes the balance of your horse. Also, the time is very tough, and if you have to go more forward, it’s also harder to keep your horse balanced, so those are the two big points you need to have in mind.”

There aren’t many riders who could get away with cantering into the first fence on an angle, but Michi did just that, cutting off a valuable split second and letting him get up on the clock from his earliest strides — and Highlighter, who has previously gone under the radar and sometimes been underwhelming in competition, really showed his class and education.

“I’m very happy about him,” says Michi with a smile. “He’s had super performances all season, and he’s getting better and better, especially here in Luhmühlen. He’s given me a super feeling in all three phases, and he’s so relaxed and concentrated, so that really helps a lot for the rider.”

Dirk Schrade takes second place on Casino 80, setting himself up for a bid at Pratoni selection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Dirk Schrade, who had originally intended to contest the five-star with Casino 80, will no doubt be delighted at his last-minute decision to switch after a surprise fall in the water in an ostensibly easy run at Baborowko CCI3*-S two weeks ago. Throughout the week, the horse has delivered again and again; he was at his very best in the dressage, shelving the nervous interpretive dancing of last year’s European Championships to earn a 26.4 and third place, and then he was bold and rideable across the country for just 3.2 time penalties, keeping him in the same position. Today, when overnight runner-up Jérôme Robiné took a pole at the penultimate fence with Black Ice, Dirk was able to slip neatly through the open door and take second with one of those six totally penalty-free clears.

“It was a great round, and he’s a great horse, and I’m so lucky to have him, thanks to Freya Reithmeyer,” says Dirk, who previously rode his top horse Hop And Skip for this loyal owner. “After he retired, we were looking for a long time for a new horse, and we’ve got that now and have been building it up over two years. The partnership is super now, and we proved that after the not-so-good weekend at Baborowko we can come back again, which shows that we have a good partnership — so I’m very happy about that.”

Sandra Auffarth takes third place with the nine-year-old Polish Sport Horse Rosveel. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Former World Champion Sandra Auffarth took third place with the Polish nine-year-old Rosveel, completing a steady weekend-long climb from seventh place after the first phase. The gelding, who has never picked up a cross-country penalty in 19 international starts, certainly looked like he could be a championship horse of the future with his sparkling clear inside the time, which he added to his 27.4 dressage and 2.4 cross-country time penalties.

Italy’s Marco Cappai breaks up the German whitewash with Uter. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Someone needed to come in and split up all these German superstars, and the Italian duo of Marco Cappai and his 2021 Europeans mount Uter were certainly up to the task. The blood-type Italian Sport Horse delivered one of three clears inside the time yesterday, but looked as fresh as a daisy today, giving everything plenty of air but ultimately ticking a second over the time allowed as a result. Still, their careful, classy round was enough to earn them fourth place — a far cry from the 23rd place they started in after dressage.

Jérôme Robiné misses out on the German national title, but takes the under-25 title with Black Ice. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though tipping the penultimate rail was no doubt heartbreaking for Jérôme Robiné, the 24-year-old, who trains at the German Federation’s military-based Warendorf production system, did get some enormous consolation: while he missed out on the German national champion title, he did win the under-25 national title aboard the impressive Black Ice, who he began riding at the beginning of the pandemic. Mark our words: we’ll see these guys making a big bid for senior accolades in the next few years.

Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Will Coleman had led the dressage here after an extraordinary test with ten-year-old Chin Tonic HS, but opted to prioritise the talented gelding’s education over yesterday’s track, adding 11.6 time penalties in the process. While Will admits that the competitive side of him finds it a bitter pill to swallow, the rational, reasonable side knows that it’s a fair trade off to build up the extravagant horse’s confidence now, in exchange for some serious gumption down the line on an even bigger day. Their time penalties pushed them down to eleventh overnight, and a green rail at the first part of the treble meant they ultimately ended up in twelfth (though forever first in our hearts after that test, frankly).

That’s all from us — for now! — from Luhmühlen, but be sure to keep it locked onto EN, as we bring you bonus content and deeper dives into the Luhmühlen experience over the next few days. Until next time: Go Eventing!

The Meßmer Trophy CCI4*-S is captured by Michael Jung once again.

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Three Horses Bid Adieu to Luhmühlen CCI5* at Final Horse Inspection

Overnight leaders Felix Vogg and Colero are accepted into the final phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After an exciting and influential cross-country day in yesterday’s soaring temperatures, today’s horse inspection was always going to be an interesting one — and it certainly turned out that way, with our field of 24 thinning down to a mere 21 as we head into the pivotal final phase.

Debutants Max Gordon and Redwood Clover are one of four holds this morning, and are ultimately sadly spun. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Four horses of the 24 presented were sent to the holding box during the course of the morning’s inspection: Ireland’s Alex Donohoe and Guidam Roller, who had also been held in Wednesday’s first horse inspection, once again found themselves sent to the box and ultimately accepted upon re-presentation, while Austria’s Lea Siegl, 21st after cross-country, opted to withdraw Cupido P from the holding box, as did South Africa’s Victoria Scott-Legendre, 14th after cross-country with Valtho des Peupliers. Great British debutant Max Gordon re-presented Redwood Clover, 19th after cross-country, but was not accepted to continue on to this morning’s showjumping finale.

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus eye another top ten five-star placing. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The final phase will begin promptly at 10.15 a.m. local time (9.15 a.m. BST/4.15 a.m. EST), and is certain to cause its fair share of influence: Luhmühlen is renowned for having the biggest, most challenging showjumping courses of all the five-stars, and today’s course is among the toughest we’ve walked here, with a related distance of a double to a double that looks set to cause plenty of poles to fall. Just one rail separates the top seven in the CCI5*, which is held overnight by a 0.1 penalty margin by Switzerland’s Felix Vogg and Colero, ahead of Tim Price and Vitali in second place and Oliver Townend and Dreamliner in third. They’re closely followed by an exciting double of female British talent in Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI, fourth, and Kylie Roddy and SRS Kan Do, fifth, who show jumped clear on their debut at Pau last year. 2018 winners Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo sit in a handy hunting ground in sixth place, just 2.6 penalties off of the top spot, followed by Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus in seventh place. Oliver Townend has a second debutant in the top ten in Lukas, eighth, while the hugely experienced duo of Cathal Daniels and Rioghan Rua keep Ireland in the hunt in ninth place. Kentucky CCI4*-S winners Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver round out the top ten on 35.1, still just 6.1 penalties off the lead.

Here’s a look at how both the leaderboards stack up going into the final phase:

The top ten after a dramatic cross-country day in Luhmühlen’s CCI5*.

The top ten after cross-country in the CCI4*-S.

The CCI4*-S horse inspection was mercifully less eventful, and all 40 pairs that completed yesterday’s cross-country will go on to showjump from 13.10 local (12.10 p.m. BST/7.15 a.m. EST). You can follow along with all the action on Horse&Country TV, and stay tuned for our jam-packed reports at the culmination of each class.

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Luhmühlen Leaderboards Are All Change After Dramatic Cross-Country Day

Felix Vogg checks the clock as he clears the penultimate fence with Colero, en route to taking over the lead in the CCI5*. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Woe betide anyone who dismisses Luhmühlen as a ‘soft’ five-star, because it certainly isn’t that — and today’s cross-country action, which was run over a course that was largely the same as last year’s, once again proved that point. Though it’s not a dimensionally enormous, stamina-sapping track like Badminton or Burghley, it veers more towards the other end of the spectrum, at the far end of which is Pau’s twisty, technical track: it’s a mental challenge, with tight lines through Lüneberg Heath’s woods and a plethora of questions that require an analytical approach, which means both horses and riders alike are asked to maintain their focus from start to finish. Add to that the late June German heat, and you’re faced with a question that’s worth every inch of its five-star designation.

Like last year’s test, which was run behind closed doors, we saw Mike Etherington-Smith’s track exert considerable influence on the leaderboard, particularly in the early part of the day, when competitor after competitor failed to cross the finish. Among them, we saw a number of notable pairs fall by the wayside: pathfinders Tom McEwen and Braveheart B, 15th after dressage, took a tumble at fence 11B, the second of three upright gates, followed by Ireland’s Mike Ryan and Barnahown Corn Hill, who finished thirteenth here last year but fell today at 16B, a brush-topped drop fence. Though Tom’s fall was innocuous and saw both horse and rider quickly up on their feet, Mike subsequently withdrew his second ride, TR Kaygraff, further thinning the field of 36 starters.

The trouble would continue on apace throughout the day. Dressage leaders Bubby Upton and Cannavaro also fell at fence 16B after an enormous leap over the first element, an upright rail, skewed their line, which in turn led to the gelding landing short on the drop and tripping up in a slight lip in the ground close to the fence. The sole German entrants, Boekelo winners Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi, relinquished their seventh place after dressage at the first water complex, which was also the first time competitors were met with large crowds of spectators: after jumping over fence four, a rolltop on a downhill approach, and popping the upright brush into the water at 5A, the mare looked almost to bolt forward out of the water complex, missing 5B entirely, and Sophie wisely opted to put her hand up and save her horse for another day. Later on in the morning’s action we saw two further major surprises: Tom McEwen‘s second debutant ride, Houghton winner Bob Chaplin, left the start box looking inexperienced and occasionally sticky, but as he progressed through the course, Tom’s sympathetic guidance paid dividends. By the latter third of the track, the gelding had gained an enormous amount of confidence and was travelling in a decent rhythm, too — but a further climb from their ninth place after dressage was precluded at the penultimate fence. As they approached the final strides ahead of fence 29A, a wide brush corner, a spectator’s dog ran onto the track, causing the horse to spook left off his line — and though Tom made a quick effort to recorrect his trajectory, the eleven-year-old gelding wasn’t quite able to complete the arc of his jump, and the pair fell.

“This is basically why I hate extendable leads,” says Tom. “Bob had been as honest as can be, and had grown in confidence on the way round, and he was jumping really well, actually — sort of cruising around. But then I got on the line to the corner and heard this extendable lead extending, and this lady screaming at the dog, and sadly, the line’s so tight that it pushed him further out to the left, which put him into the corner. At that point on the course, horses are tired, and they’re also unbelievably honest and love what they’re doing — so Bob being Bob just went, ‘oh, I can do it!’ and jumped in. But sadly for him, we went straight to the widest part of the corner, all because a dog came flying. It was the first time I’ve been properly angry in a long time, but I just felt so gutted for the horse and the owners, because he didn’t deserve that.”

The second of those two late major surprises came from the last out on course, Ireland’s Cathal Daniels and LEB Lias Jewel, who finished ninth here last year. Though the first few fences on the course are wholly unchanged from that course, the ordinarily enormously consistent mare misread fence three, a wide white oxer, and came down on the back rail, activating the MIMs clips but falling nonetheless. Both horse and rider were back up immediately.

The day’s dramas allowed an open door at the top end of the tightly-packed leaderboard, and the remaining competitors certainly made the most of it. We saw just over two-thirds of the starters complete the course, giving us 24 remaining combinations going into tomorrow’s final horse inspection, and an impressive nine of them came home clear inside the time – and just two of the 24 finishers picked up jumping penalties along the way, though we saw several flag queries through the day that were ultimately dismissed.

Felix Vogg and Colero add a big accolade to Switzerland’s sparkling season so far. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Top of the pack at the end of the day is Swiss Olympian Felix Vogg and his Tokyo mount Colero, who were fourth after dressage on a score of 29. They added nothing to it today, marking the first time the experienced fourteen-year-old gelding has made the time in a long-format since doing it in his second-ever CCI2*-L back in 2016. The hugely consistent pair, who were sixth at Kentucky CCI5* in 2019, took a bold approach to the course — bolder, perhaps, than even Felix had expected.

“The first water was a little bit…” Felix pauses, pulling a wry face. “I don’t know if I did five or four strides, but I think I did four, and I’d walked it on five. It just came like that and he did it — but everything else was really perfect after minute four or five. He decided then to calm down, which he’s always doing; he doesn’t really like to run further, but after one minute more he understood that he has to run longer today.”

Colero’s experience meant that even when he was at his sharpest, he didn’t get starstruck in the face of the enthusiastic crowds of spectators, and Felix was able to keep his focus almost wholly on the task at hand.

“He was really nice to ride. I think he didn’t really care [about the crowds], though around the arena he spooked a little bit and was a little bit surprised. But at the first water he wasn’t at all — it’s there that you really need an experienced horse, because it comes quickly out of the dark and there’s a lot of people. It’s difficult.”

With one phase to go, Felix remains pragmatic about what’s left to come — though a win tomorrow would give Switzerland another enormous reason for celebration in what’s been a bumper season for the developing eventing nation so far, and would mark the first Swiss five-star win since Hans Schwarzenbach and Vae Victis won Badminton in 1951. And, no less noteworthy, it would be a birthday win for the rider, who turns 32 tomorrow.

“Two weeks ago in Baborowko, before the showjumping I nearly couldn’t handle him — he was really, really on,” explains Felix. “It’s probably the most difficult phase, the showjumping and prize giving, but not because he cannot do it — it’s just because he’s nervous and then he gets a little bit more ‘on’.”

Tim Price’s Vitali steps up in a big way to move into second place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just one-tenth of a penalty point behind Felix is Tim Price, who also rides his Tokyo partner — but unlike Colero, Vitali is making his debut at five-star. Like Colero, though, tomorrow’s showjumping is his weakest phase; we saw him take three rails in the final phase at the Olympics, though a winter’s worth of hard work has no doubt sharpened his performance over the poles.

But tomorrow’s tomorrow, and we’re here to talk about today: although the twelve-year-old Holsteiner, who was previously campaigned at four-star by James Avery, is inexperienced at this level, he was all class on today’s course, which he’d previously tackled in parts when finishing sixth in last year’s CCI4*-S. But even with four seconds in hand to take the overnight lead, it didn’t quite come off — the pair finished five seconds over the eleven minute optimum time, pushing them into the optimal hunting ground tomorrow.

“He’s a first timer, and that’s where the time faults come in a little bit, because it’s sort of my policy to start them in a way in which they can find themselves at the bigger fences and bigger questions,” says Tim. “Then I build it from there. I do always hope to make up that time, but at this stage in their careers, I’m always very happy to accept a few seconds over.”

Vitali’s tendency towards spookiness ultimately helped him make the best of the course, particularly when he began to tire near the end — but Tim wasn’t always wholly confident that it would work that way.

“He was a bit highly-strung coming to the start — there was a horse that came flying through the water as I tried to get across to the beginning, and I got a bit worried because he turned around and wouldn’t go, but we got across and he settled once he started,” he says. “I think it’s a big ask for horses to go to the Olympic Games a ten-year-old as he did last year, and he was a young ten-year-old too, so more like a nine-year-old in my head. You do pay a bit of a penalty for that, where they’re just ready for atmosphere. He’s a highly-strung horse anyway, so that’s something for us to think about in the coming years — just to have him nice and relaxed so we can go through the motions of the job. [Right now] you land and there’s some plants on the ground or something and he’s giving them a little bit of attention, and then looks at the fence and jumps it beautifully — but that attention is a useful thing, and it’s really nice to have alertness like that all the way home, because then at things like the coffin with the tall rail, they’re really attentive and thinking on their feet.”

Oliver Townend’s debutant Dreamliner moves onto the podium and becomes best of the British after an influential cross-country day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The British contingent has a new frontrunner after a mixed day for the country’s representatives — though Oliver Townend‘s day was decidedly not mixed at all. He brought forward two five-star debutants this week, and though both had moments on course in which they showed their inexperience, Oliver’s determined riding ensured that both came home clear and inside the time — and in the top ten, to boot. First ride Lukas, who he inherited from Ireland’s Camilla Spiers last year, sits eighth overnight on a two-phase score of 34, while the Chamberlayne family’s homebred Dreamliner, who won CCI4*-S classes this spring at Burnham Market and Chatsworth, now lies third on 29.6.

“He’s a big horse and it’s very hot today, but he’s a very genuine horse,” says Oliver. “It’s very exciting for the Chamberlaynes, who own him and bred him — it keeps the breeding dream alive in England. Whatever happens tomorrow, they’ve bred a horse that’s got to five-star, and that takes some doing.”

Though Dreamliner has racked up some exceptional results since joining Oliver’s string in 2019, his record prior to that under a number of different riders wasn’t quite as inspiring. Over the last couple of seasons, though, we’ve seen the son of Jumbo come into his own, as he proved today.

“He wouldn’t be the ultimate athlete, but he’s a plugger — he sticks his head down and every time you ask him, he tries,” says Oliver. “If everybody sat on him, they’d be very surprised; he’s a two-seater, really, and a bit of a hunter, to tell you the truth, but it takes all sorts and at the end of the day, not many horses get to five-star and not many go around inside the time as easily as he just has. It’s more to do with the brain and the character; I try to give them as smooth a ride as possible, and as much help as possible, but they’ve obviously still got to give me a little bit back, and he definitely did that today.”

Oliver Townend and Lukas climb into the top ten after a clear round inside the time. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though his first ride of the day on now-eighth-placed Lukas didn’t look quite as smooth of sailing as Dreamliner, Oliver still got the job done and gave the horse a formative education in the process: “He, again, was very, very genuine — he’s definitely not my production yet, but at the same time, he wants to go between the flags, and that’s all that counts. I’m very, very fortunate to be riding him for my new owners, Caunton Manor, so hopefully that’ll put a smile on their faces. It was a fact-finding mission, and to be competitive is a very, very big bonus.”

Kirsty Chabert guns for the finish with Classic VI. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In fourth and fifth place, two British Badminton rerouters proved that they’d left their demons behind in the Gloucestershire countryside: Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI climbed from eleventh to fourth after coming home clear inside the time, and Kylie Roddy and SRS Kan Do, who’d retired after jumping through the bulk of Badminton’s most difficult questions because the gelding lost a front shoe, did the same, moving up from twelfth to fifth overnight.

Kylie Roddy and SRS Kan Do clear the last after delivering one of the rounds of the day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“There was a bit of swings and roundabouts out there,” says Kylie. “There was times when I helped him, and he helped me at the first water — I’d have liked a better shot in, and naughty Roddy, I got a bit in front of the movement and lost my stirrups! So I jammed my foot back down, got my leg in the right place, and carried on through there with no pedals. He was an amazing horse there — he really held his line and was looking for the flags, and it really shows the journey those horses go on, because two years ago, that might not have been the case.”

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus add some time but remain in the top ten with a gutsy round. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though Lauren Nicholson and her experienced five-star campaigner Vermiculus couldn’t quite cling onto their first-phase second place, their 5.2 time penalties only dropped them down a handful of places: they now sit seventh going into the final day, just three-tenths of a penalty behind sixth-placed Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo, who found redemption after last year’s freak fall with an efficient clear inside the time.

“It’s very different to your Badmintons and Burghleys and Kentuckies — it’s my first time here, and it felt more like a racecourse,” says Lauren. “I was pretty annoyed the whole way around that I couldn’t make up the few seconds, and I kept hammering at it, but he was super. If we hadn’t trotted a few things, we’d have had a little less time, but he’s such a machine cross-country, and he’s so fun. I’ve ridden him since he was three, so I know him inside and out, and I’m just thrilled to have a good round for [owner] Ms. Mars — I’m so appreciative that she sent us here and put us on that flight.”

Vermiculus’s ability to jump five-star questions from a trot helps to make him enormously handy with his footwork — and that comes from plenty of time spent working on this skill as a young horse.

“I think I made a huge mistake with him as a young horse,” laughs Lauren, who has previously notched up top-ten finishes at Burghley and Kentucky with the fifteen-year-old. “He had a huge, rangy canter and couldn’t hold it for very long, so I trotted fences for a really long time — and I think it’s backfired on me, because he’s very confident trotting fences! When in doubt, he just breaks into trot, because he thinks it’s just fine. But on the flip side, you can do anything out of anywhere because he’s quite happy; he just throws in a trot step and gets it done. He’s got quite the fifth leg, but he’s not the fastest horse in the world. He never has been — he’s not the type you can kind of spread across a gallop stretch and make up five seconds, so when you’re down on the clock, it’s very hard to make up the time.”

Cathal Daniels has a day of two halves, but moves into the placings with the exceptional Rioghan Rua after an easy clear. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cathal Daniels and his own feisty pony Rioghan Rua made light work of the track, coming home exactly on the optimum time of eleven seconds to move up from nineteenth to ninth — no surprise to longtime followers of the game, hugely consistent cross-country machine, who previously earned the individual bronze medal at the European Championships here in 2019.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver tackle the tough first water. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Rounding out the top ten is Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver, who delivered a bold, educated round but picked up six time penalties, pushing them down from fifth place but keeping them well in the hunt tomorrow — there’s just one rail separating the top seven, and Liz and ‘Monster’ sit 6.1 penalties, or a rail and five seconds, behind Felix and Colero.

All our North American pairs crossed the finish line in style today: Canada’s Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes notched up a steady clear for 19.6 time penalties, which boosted them from 24th to 17th, while Matt Flynn and Wizzerd overcame an early stop at fence four, which brought horses to that busy first water complex, to complete with no further issues and, like Karl and Fernhill Wishes, 19.6 time penalties. That puts them in twentieth place, down from sixteenth after dressage, as we look ahead to tomorrow’s showjumping finale.

The top ten after a dramatic cross-country day in Luhmühlen’s CCI5*.

Michael Jung and Highlighter take over the lead in the CCI4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This afternoon’s CCI4*-S, which incorporates the German National Championship, was hardly any less exciting: of the 51 competitors who completed dressage over the last two days, 46 left the start box today — and while 41 of them would go on to complete, and 34 would do so without jumping penalties, we did see a new leader in the clubhouse. Dressage leaders Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS executed a classy clear, but added 11.6 time penalties to drift down to eleventh place, opening the door for last year’s winner, Michael Jung, to step into the top spot aboard Highlighter with one of the day’s three clears inside the time.

“He’s a very good horse, and in the cross-country, he gives me a very, very good feeling — the fitness was very good, and he’s had a few very good competitions before on hilly places, which has been perfect for the fitness training,” says Michael. “He’s very easy to ride at the jumps, and that’s what you need to be fast on a course like this — he doesn’t need a lot of adjusting.”

Though we’re sure some of his competitors would disagree with his assessment, Michi the maestro found the course a straightforward one: “I think it was not too difficult, but for sure there were some things everywhere where you need to pay attention. For me, everything works like I walked it; I watched a few riders in the beginning and then the course was clear to me. I had a good plan, and Highlighter made everything easy for me.”

24-year-old Jérôme Robiné moved from sixth to overnight second after adding just two time penalties with Black Ice, who he began riding at the start of the pandemic.

“He’s getting faster and faster, and he has a big stride, but it’s not that he’s always naturally fast — you have to go for it, and he has to stay focused and in good form,” says Jérôme. “Then it’s possible, but it’s not his natural. But he’s pretty scopey, and he can do a little, quick jump, or he can take off from a few meters away from the fence — he can do pretty much all of it, which is what makes him that good. Even with that big stride, he always tries to make the best out of it. We still have a lot to improve to get it even more competitive — when you see Michi and his round, it was just fluent everywhere, and that’s where we want to get to.”

An extravagant round from Dirk Schrade and Casino 80 puts them in podium position ahead of the final day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Dirk Schrade and Casino 80 sit in third place after a bold, occasionally extravagant round that saw them leave their dunking at Baborowko CCI3*-S a few weeks ago well behind them. They added 3.2 time penalties, which allowed them to stay in the same place they’d held after dressage.

“He did a spectacular jump into the water, which made me really happy — he really flew in the air and was so confident,” says Dirk. “The rest of the course was probably a little bit too much pressure from me where he didn’t need it, but here at the German Championship you want to make it happen. But he was super.”

Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS record a steady round to slip from first to eleventh place after cross-country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Both classes will head into a final horse inspection from 8.30 a.m. local time tomorrow morning (that’s 7.30 a.m. BST or 2.30 a.m. EST, if early-morning trot-ups are your sort of thing). After that, we’ll see the CCI5* class showjump from 10.15 local (9.15 a.m. BST/4.15 a.m. EST), followed by the CCI4*-S at 13.10 local (12.10 p.m. BST/7.15 a.m. EST). We’ll be bringing you full reports from both inspections, plus the jumping finales, and as always, you can follow along throughout with Horse&Country TV‘s live stream. Until next time, folks: Go Eventing!

The top ten after cross-country in the CCI4*-S.

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Luhmühlen CCI5*, Day Two: Bubby Upton Retains Lead Amid American Invasion of Top Five

Tim Price and Vitali deliver the best test of day two for overnight third. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Nobody could usurp our first day one-two, though plenty gave it a jolly good go today — but as we look ahead to tomorrow’s cross-country, it’s 23-year-old Brit Bubby Upton who reigns supreme with her former show jumper Cannavaron 24.9, followed closely behind by US pair Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus on 26.7. The closest of today’s contenders, Tim Price and Tokyo mount Vitali, came late in the day, and put up a smart 27.1 to take overnight third place.

“He’s a talented horse, but for me it felt like he wasn’t concentrating everywhere,” says Tim, who finished sixth here in the CCI4*-S with the twelve-year-old last year. “He still does a nice job, but it was little things — like in the middle halt, he didn’t stand still. But as Jonelle said, it’s probably better to be hunting than to be in the front, where you make some stupid decision and crash and burn. We’ll just quietly chip away.”

Tim, who took the ride on the gelding on in late 2020, found Vitali a rather different ride today than he was last year — and different, too, to how he was in Houghton’s comparatively barren atmosphere a couple of weeks ago, where he earned a 22.1.

“This is the first time he’s had atmosphere since Tokyo, and maybe it hits them different when they’re a bit more seasoned,” he says. “He was definitely a juvenile last year, and found it a bit overwhelming, but it’s about building them into a five-star horse that knows the job, goes through the motions, and becomes consistent. This was him on not his best day, in my opinion, and if he can still pull in a good score, then it’s okay.”

Getting Vitali’s brain on side is the key to a truly sparkling test, as Tim explains: “He’s a bit of a neurotic; he’s always whirring, and so the more relaxation you can have in there, the nicer he is to ride, because then you can have him with you the whole way. With the really talented ones, you’re always honing in on their weaknesses, and sometimes you need to take a step back a little bit and realise how lucky you are to ride a horse like that. There are things he’s super good at — like cross-country, touch wood, I never have to worry about. Of course, things can happen, but he’s a really cool, fun horse.”

Vitali is one of two five-star debutant rides for Tim this week; his first round tomorrow will come with Spartaco, who sits thirteenth overnight on 31.4. For both, the aim will be to remain competitive, but also to fact-find around Mike Etherington-Smith’s twisty track.

“It’s about the trip, and whether they’ll have the stamina to make the trip around. There are decent enough things to give it a proper five-star stamp, but we’ll just take it as it comes along and hopefully come home full of running.”

Felix Vogg and his stalwart Colero take overnight fourth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Switzerland’s Felix Vogg will go into cross-country in fourth place with his fourteen-year-old Tokyo mount Colero, who earned a 29 despite some uncharacteristic tension in the lead-up to today’s test.

“For the last two days, he’s a bit nervous — yesterday I felt it, and then again today,” says Felix. “He’s usually really, really calm — I don’t even do familiarisation, because he’s so quiet.”

Felix and Colero’s partnership goes back to the start of the horse’s career, and has already seen them finish in the top ten at this level: they were sixth at Kentucky in 2019, in the midst of a stint basing in the US for the rider. That means that he’s well aware of the horse’s quirks — and, like most horses at the upper echelons of the sport, he certainly has a few of those.

“He’s a little bit special, like they all are. When he came to us, he was really spooky and really difficult, and he still is — he has ‘his person’, Claudia, who was in Tokyo with him. He loves her, and he has two or three people who are for him. With everyone else, he gets a bit difficult. But otherwise, he’s very calm if you leave him as he is and don’t try to change him; that doesn’t work,” says Felix with a smile.

“He’s a weird, wonderful, wiggly animal”: Liz Halliday-Sharp’s Cooley Quicksilver records a five-star personal best for fifth overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

At just eleven years old, Cooley Quicksilver has more stamps in his passport than most people: he’s competed at Le Lion d’Angers, split his time between the US and UK for several seasons, and journeyed back to France last year to tackle the CCI5* at Pau. Today, all that experience and education came together for Liz Halliday-Sharp, who was able to pilot him through a classy test for a five-star personal best of 29.1, securing a second spot in the top five for the American contingent here.

“He’s sort of a weird, wonderful, wiggly animal, which makes him not very easy to ride on the flat, to be honest, because his body parts are going 25 different directions at once,” laughs Liz. “But that’s what makes him such an athlete, too — and he tried really hard in there.”

“I’m happy to get him in the twenties, and I think there’s an even bigger mark in there for him, but he just needs to keep growing up and getting more training and doing all those good things we keep working on,” she says. “He’s like riding someone that’s triple-jointed — he’s not normal; he’s very bendy, and very goofy and quirky, and always trying to second-guess me, so I have to ride him very carefully in the ring, but he’s definitely improving. This was a far better test than he did at Pau [last year], and he’s definitely grown up a lot this year, which is exciting. He always fights for me.”

Liz first took the ride on the gelding, with whom she won Kentucky’s tough CCI4*-S this spring, as part of her partnership with Cooley Farm in Ireland, and now she rides him for her stalwart supporters, the Desino brothers of Ocala Horse Properties, who couldn’t be here this week.

“That was really exciting for him, especially because he’s a horse I produced from a five-year-old — and he was pretty feral when I got him. So it’s very exciting to then have a big win like that, and for the owners, as well, who’ve supported him for a while and will be watching on the livestream,” she says. Tuning in will have gifted them with a jolly sight: all the building blocks Liz has been stacking in his training looked positively cemented into place throughout his test.

“His changes are improving — he did hold the straightness for me on those, and they used to be really tricky on him because he’s such a wiggle monster. The centre lines have also been a massive challenge with him, because he’s thinking something all the time. He’s not one you can just kick on down, because if you do, he’ll stick his head in the air and gallop off down the centre line — but it’s all getting a lot better, and the extended work was good today, too. That’s getting more lift and more weight behind, which is the overall direction his work is going.”

Liz, who’s always had Luhmühlen in mind as ‘Monster’s’ ideal course, is as aware of the gelding’s quirks as she is of his exceptional talent, and that’s what’s helped her stick with him even when he hasn’t been the easiest — or, at some points, the most pleasant — horse to train.

“He wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but we do know each other very well and for all his goofiness, he does try very hard,” she says. “He has a lot of fight in him, he loves his job, and he’s very honest. He’s a good boy, and we’re good friends.”

Oliver Townend cracks the 30 barrier on debutant Dreamliner. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Oliver Townend cracked the top ten with the second of his two debutant rides after a disappointing test yesterday put him in 17th place on a 34 with LukasDreamliner, with whom he’s won CCI4*-S classes at Burnham Market and Chatsworth this year, certainly made up for it, though, delivering a 29.6 to sit sixth after this phase — though Oliver found himself on the back foot in the ring in today’s heat.

“He’s a big horse in the heat, and I gave him about ten minutes warm-up, which was probably about eight minutes too much,” he reflects. “He’s very easy in the cold, peeing down rain at Lincoln, with the wind up his backside, but when it’s warm and still it obviously affects them all, and he’s a big horse [on top of that]. But we are where we are, and I was happy enough. It’s kind of what we expected — and I’ve had a lot of luck out of being in sixth position before.”

Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi – the only German entrants in this class – sit pretty in seventh overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s considerable buzz around Germany’s sole entrants in this class, Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi, and not just because they represent the home side: the five-star first-timers won Boekelo CCIO4*-L last October in just their second run at the level, and led the dressage at Aachen last year, too, on an exceptional 24.5. They didn’t quite hit those lows today, but their tidy 30.6 was enough to see them sit seventh overnight, keeping them well in contention for the weekend ahead.

“She was quite concentrated, and she did very well and listened very well,” says Sophie, who was ruing a mistake in the second flying change, which prevented them from dipping into the 20s: “Normally this is her strength, so I’m a bit sad about that!”

But at this level, there’s not much time to spend regretting flying changes that could have been, and Sophie’s overjoyed to be here competing at the topmost echelon of the sport with the twelve-year-old mare, who she began riding as a five-year-old.

“It’s still a little unbelievable to be here,” she admits. “She’s the best horse I’ve ever had, and although she can be very sensitive and very excited, we know each other very, very well now. We’re a good team, and that’s the big thing with us: she’s a bit hot and wild, and she can be strong, and she knows what she wants and what she doesn’t want, but she’s fighting for me, and that’s great.”

Austria’s Lea Siegl, who formed part of yesterday’s top three, sits eighth going into cross-country with Cupido P on 30.8, while two Brits on debutant horses — Fiona Kashel and WSF Carthago and Tom McEwen on Bob Chaplin — round out the top ten in equal ninth on 30.9. If you think that sounds rather tightly bunched, welcome to the Luhmühlen leaderboard: once you get past our top three outlier scores, there’s scarcely any wiggle room to be had, which will make every second count tomorrow.

Matt Flynn and Wizzerd get the job done to sit in the top twenty overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Our top-placed North Americans aren’t the only representatives from across the pond who produced tests today: we also saw some super work from Matt Flynn and Wizzerd, who sit sixteenth overnight on 33.4, and Canada’s Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes, who are 24th on 37.9.

“I was really happy with how he remained rideable in there — we maybe could have had a bit more presence in some of the movements, but I’m happy with where it’s going,” says Matt, who credits Tim and Jonelle Price for providing valuable support and training during his stint in the UK so far.

Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes sit in the top 25 after the first-phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

You can follow along with all the CCI5* action from 9.15 a.m. local time (8.15 a.m. BST/3.15 a.m. EST), followed by the CCI4*-S from 12.50 local (11.50 a.m. BST/6.50 a.m. EST) on Horse&CountryTV.

The top ten after dressage in Luhmühlen’s CCI5*.

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Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS Take Dressage Lead in Luhmühlen CCI4*-S

Will Coleman and his ten-year-old Chin Tonic HS dance their way to the first-phase lead in Luhmühlen’s CCI4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We can’t be certain, but we’d be willing to be that right now, there’s a representative from the German Equestrian Federation at the embassy, begging the staff there to blacklist Will Coleman from the visa list. After all, it had been going so nicely for the Germans in their showpiece event: Luhmühlen’s CCI4*-S class, which incorporates the German National Championships, was enjoying a leaderboard jam-packed with home nation talent. They’d even managed to push Will’s first ride, 2021 Aachen winner Off The Record, down to the bottom end of the top ten, which isn’t quite the same as getting those stars and stripes off the board, but it’s pretty darn close. And then, when Michael Jung catapulted himself to the top of the leaderboard with Highlighter, it was all starting to feel like a very patriotic day of sport for Germany — until Chin Tonic HS appeared.

At just ten years old, the gelding — who was, at least, bred and sourced in Germany — has been making waves in the US, taking five wins and nine total top tens in his eleven FEI career so far, but this, his first competitive trip abroad since his import as a young horse, was always going to be a major step: would he rise to the challenge and live up to the enormous standards set in continental competition, and maintain that impeccable record of sub-30 scores?

As it turns out, he certainly would — and even those most hardened of European eventing aficionados watched on, a touch misty-eyed in admiration, as Hyperion Stud’s son of Chin Champ danced his way to a 24.6 and the first-phase lead.

“He’s a good boy,” says Will Coleman, presumably moments before getting strong-armed into a deportation van and forcibly removed from the country. “He’s still pretty green, but we’ve brought him on this trip to give him experience in this kind of atmosphere. We think a lot of the horse, but we’ve got to keep developing him and doing our best.”

“This is just one step in the journey” — Will Coleman’s Chin Tonic HS gets the weekend off to a great start. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Their best, as it turns out, was impressive across the board: their marks stayed between 7 and 8.5 throughout the test, with the exception of just one 6.5 from the judge at E for their medium walk. Though this isn’t their best-ever score at four-star — that came at Stable View this spring, where they posted a 22.4 — it showed enormous improvement even from their last test, which earned them a 28.9 in the comparable atmosphere at Kentucky’s CCI4*-S.

“You can still feel at times that he’s sort of holding his breath just a little, and is maybe a little tentative, but he gives you a really honest feeling when you’re riding him and he always tries to do the right thing,” says Will. “That’s the sign of a good horse.”

Although Will knew his horse could put in an excellent performance, he focused his attentions today not on trying to usurp the leaders, but instead on trying to make each movement as fluid and correct as possible: “I know that he’s capable of it, but I really try not to think too hard about expectations,” he says. “I think sometimes that gets me into trouble a little bit, because I end up trying too hard to meet them. With him, he’s such a classy horse that to a degree you come out on the day and take what you’ve got, and usually it’s still pretty good. So I honestly didn’t think about where I wanted to be after the dressage — I just want to try and ride well for three days, and wherever that puts us is fine.”

That characteristic pragmatism is present as he looks ahead to the weekend’s competition, which will see the pair tackle a tough cross-country track tomorrow before showjumping on Sunday.

“He’s got tonnes of quality, and this is just one step in the journey — but it’s a great event, and we’re excited,” says Will. “We’ve still got two more days to tackle, and tomorrow will be a good test for him. There’s lots of combinations so I think, especially if you’re going to try to go a bit quick, you have to be mindful of the stride that you’re on. The first water is a little tricky; mine’s a bit spooky early on in a course, so I’m a bit worried about turning in front of the Longines sign, and whether or not he’s going to actually see what we’re going to jump! I think early on in the course, that water rides tough, and it rode tough last year as well, so we’ll see. That’s why we came: to sort of see how he measures up to these kinds of things. We’ll just come out and find out.”

Michael Jung and Highlighter take the top spot among the German contingent. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Michael Jung sits second overnight, and top of the German national championship leaderboard, though he’s not on last year’s victor, fischerChipmunk — this time, he pilots the slightly under-the-radar Highlighter. At just eleven years old, Highlighter has already been around the block a fair bit: this will be his 32nd FEI start, and in his career, which has been split fairly equally between Michi and former stable jockey Pietro Grandis, he’s had a number of exciting results, including a recent hot streak that’s seen him finish first or second in his last five internationals. His 25.6 today comes as the latest in a good run of mid-20s scores, an enormous improvement upon the low-30s marks we saw the gelding deliver through the 2021 season.

“That was not our best dressage, but I am still very happy,” says Michi. :My horse is getting better and better overall, so I am still pleased with our test. I set myself a target of 25 points and we just about managed that.”

Dirk Schrade’s Casino 80 learns to love the buzz for overnight third. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fellow German team stalwart Dirk Schrade holds third going into cross-country with Casino 80, who joined his string partway through the pandemic after being produced to four-star by German team coach — and top-level competitor in his own right — Peter Thompsen. Their 26.4 wasn’t wholly unexpected: the twelve-year-old Holsteiner has produced similarly-marked tests at the level at venues including Marbach and Arville, but his previous exposure to a significant atmosphere, which came at the European Championships at Avenches last year, saw him bubble over in the ring. Today, though, he looked considerably more secure in his work, which allowed Dirk to use the buzz of the main arena to create expression rather than tension.

“I got him in a Covid year where there were no spectators, and [in that situation], he’s absolutely calm — but in Avenches, with a little bit of spectators and clapping, he first of all showed that he’s more sensitive than I expected,” says Dirk. “In here, it was like that also when they clapped — he gets a bit excited, but I could use it to my advantage this time. Normally, he’s really a little bit lazy — he has the movement, but he doesn’t put so much into the daily work. You wouldn’t say he’s a hot, nervous horse, so it was good to be able to use it to create more expression. In a normal one-day event I could do a test on him after five minutes of warm-up and he would never jog in the walk or anything — so it’s strange, but it’s good to know.”

Dirk’s appearance on the CCI4*-S entry list comes after a last-minute change of plans: he’d originally entered the gelding for the CCI5* class here, but opted to swap after a freak fall in the water in a CCI3*-S class at Baborowko a couple of weeks ago.

“We had a super start to the season with a first and a second [at three-star], and a fourth in Marbach’s CCI4*-S,” he explains. “Then, I wanted to do a nice run in Baborowko three-star because he’s very careful cross-country and overjumps the brushes, so we wanted to make it easy — but then we fell in the water at fence seven. No one knows how, and we were both totally in the water — so we just walked him for ten days afterwards and started again. I thought, that’s not ideal to do a first five-star with him after such a run!”

Alina Dibowski celebrates with father Andreas after taking the morning lead. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Yesterday was the domain of the German young guns, and they were certainly well-represented today, too, with a super test from 21-year-old Alina Dibowski and Barbados 26. Their 26.8 was enough to see them take the lead for part of the morning, and they’ll head into tomorrow’s cross-country in provisional fourth place.

“Coming up the last centreline I was just smiling — my horse was so, so good, and I had a great feeling,” she says. “I wasn’t ever thinking about taking the lead, but I was thinking about my own personal high score and personal goals; he did everything right, and so we had a nice test.”

Though they didn’t quite hit their personal best at the level, which was a 25.2 at Strzegom in April, they found themselves in much tougher company today — an extraordinary accomplishment considering that they began their partnership eight years ago, when Alina was just thirteen and the expressive gelding was five.

“We started at the lowest level together, and my father was riding him at the same time, one level up from me,” she says. Through the years, they’ve tackled all the youth classes, including two Junior and two Young Rider European Championships, before stepping up to the big leagues — and along the way, they’ve worked closely with Alina’s father, four-time Olympian Andreas Dibowski, to cement their education.

“We see each other all the time, all day in the stable, and I work on the cross-country especially with him — but I also need to think about keeping it separated in my head all the time, because otherwise training gets mixed up with family business,” laughs Alina, who balances riding full-time with studying International Management — a course she’s undertaking in its entirety as online distance-learning. “I do everything online at home, so I can have the time for competing my big horse at big events and have time for younger horses as well, but in the winter there’s more studying on the plan!”

Spending so much time working with the horses at home is paying dividends — particularly with Barbados, who thrives on one-on-one attention.

“He’s sometimes a little bit moody, so I need to catch him on the right foot — but he’s also very personal. Me, my mum, and my dad are his people, and when you’re around him 24/7, he really wants to be with you all the time and cuddling,” she says with a smile.

 

 

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Yesterday’s leader, Hanna Knüppel, sits equal fifth overnight and is joined on a score of 27 by Jérôme Robiné, a 24-year-old student of the German Federation’s Warendorf training centre, and Black Ice, who he took the ride on at the start of the pandemic.

“His owner came to me and said, ‘do you want the ride on a horse?’ And I said, ‘I mean, yeah, as long as it’s not a donkey,'” he laughs. “But in my first ride, I was pretty amazed by him — he felt like my horses in the Juniors and Young Riders; just really bold. But there was a long way to go in the beginning — and now it’s getting good. And actually, it’s pretty cool [to be near the top] here, because when you start out in this sport you look up to these events and these riders, and you think, ‘oh, I’ll never be there; they’re so much better than me!’ And that’s what’s actually pretty cool — to step up the leaderboard and be with guys like Dirk Schrade, especially because me and Alina and Hanna are all the young riders. We’re the babies, and we have a long way to go, but it’s pretty cool that we’ve nearly made it!”

The top ten after dressage in the CCI4*-S at Luhmühlen.

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Luhmühlen At A Glance: Meet the Riders of the CCI5*

Earlier this week, we introduced you to the field of horses here to contest the 5* at Luhmühlen — now let’s get to know the riders! Who’s making their debut at the level, who’s won a 5* before (spoiler: there’s plenty of winners in this field!), and more in our field guide to the competitors:

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Luhmühlen Day One: Bubby Upton Takes the Five-Star Lead; Young German Talent Eyes National Title

Bubby Upton and Cannavaro tick all the boxes to take a decisive day one lead in the CCI5*. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We might be biased, but last year’s fairytale Luhmühlen victory by young Brit Mollie Summerland and her Charly van ter Heiden set an enormously high standard for the sort of heartstring-puller of a story we want to see in the hallowed grounds of Germany’s only five-star. This year, though, we’re just one day into the 36-strong CCI5* line-up’s dressage performances, and we’ve already got another enormously impressive young British talent heading up the roster: 23-year-old Bubby Upton, who’s busy balancing her final year at Edinburgh University with competing at the top levels, soared into a decisive lead with her 15-year-old Cannavaro, delivering an excellent 24.9.

“I’m so proud of him, honestly — everyone knows how much he means to me, and he’s come so from the tense show jumper he was,” says an emotional Bubby, moments after her test with the Dutch-bred gelding. “Today he showed that he’s learnt to dance. He was amazing; I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Though Bubby and Cannavaro, or ‘Joey’ as he’s known at home, have been a partnership for over five years, today was the first time that all the pieces of the puzzle really came together in the ring — and as she turned onto the final centreline, Bubby admits she felt a lump in her throat.

“I was like, ‘we’ve just got all four changes!’ I’ve never got a left-to-right change with him in an arena,” she explains. “He used to do this skip behind — he just couldn’t do it. Over the winter I was so determined to get it, and I spent hours working on it — we did counter-canter, and then I’d just like, trick him into doing it, because he’d anticipate so much and then just do the little skip. And one day I did one and I was like, ‘oh my god, we can do this!’ and so we did it day in and day out, and now he’s really started to get them.”

The work paid off, earning them consistent marks of 6 to 8 for the four changes within the test. Throughout her time spent producing the gelding, with whom she became the under-25 National Champion at last year’s Bramham replacement at Bicton, Bubby has found him endlessly willing to try, despite his conformational limitations: “It’s always a relief when the training pays off,” she says, “and he really is the teacher’s pet; he genuinely is always like, ‘what’s next? What’s next?’ He finds it really hard, because he’s not naturally engaged — he’s quite long, and if you see him walk, he twists his legs, but the one thing he’s always had is a heart of gold. That came through today. He was getting a bit tired and I was like, ‘keep going!’ He was really incredible.”

“He’s always exceeded our expectations” – Bubby Upton tops the board with Cannavaro. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cannavaro was originally produced for the showjumping ring, and Bubby admits that when she first went to try the gelding, who was previously owned by Lucy Morgan, she wasn’t initially wholly impressed by what she saw.

“He came with the nickname ‘Fat Joey’, because he was so fat,” she laughs. “I remember when I went to try him for the first time: I looked over his door and he was popping out of his little Thermatex with his head in the haylage net. I thought, ‘that horse doesn’t need haylage!” But he was so adored by Lucy, and he’s so adored by us — you can’t help but love him. My mum is fully obsessed with him — we don’t have favourites, but she literally loves him! I think it’s that he’s always been the underdog. In our eyes, he’s never been in anyone’s shadow, but on paper, he has: he was in Eros DHI’s shadow for Juniors and then he was in Cola’s shadow for Young Riders, but he’s always exceeded our expectations.”

Now, though, he gets to be the star of the show this week, as Bubby’s other two rides, Clever Louis and Jefferson 18, are contesting the hot CCI4*-S class. Though she’d considered taking him to Badminton alongside her other top-level horse, Cola, she opted to stick to her guns and give him a run over flatter European terrain first — a plan she’d first put into action at Pau’s CCI5* last October. There, she pulled him up after an unlucky error at an influential combination early on the course, which she owns as rider error, saving him instead for another day.

“I messed up at Pau on him, which I’ve analysed a lot and learned from, and have worked very hard to hopefully not let happen again. But with his lack of blood, Bicton CCI4*-L [where he won the under-25 class] was the first time we really though, ‘wow, he might do a five-star.’ I wanted him to do a continental five-star before putting him around Badminton, because he’s never done that trip and he’s never jumped fences that size, so I didn’t think it was a logical decision to take him there for his first real run at the level. I’m really glad I didn’t, because it knackered them. The last thing I ever want to do is break his heart, because he’s a giver every day of the week, and he’ll give 120% when he’s got nothing left. I don’t want to push him that point too far, so it was always going to be a case of doing a continental one first, and then if he does well, it’ll be Badminton next year.”

Bubby’s weekly schedule is enough to make anyone’s eyes water: she runs a full string of exciting horses most weeks around the UK and beyond, and flies back and forth from her East Anglia base to Scotland to complete her studies. But, as she points out, none of that would be possible without the enormous support of her family and home team, helmed by head groom Katie Dutton.

“It’s a massive team effort,” she says effusively. “I get to ride him, so obviously I’m the lucky one — but everyone has helped me so much with him. I nearly gave up on him a few years ago, and god, I’ve never been happier to be proved wrong.”

Lauren Nicholson delivers one of her best-ever tests with the sparky, cheeky Vermiculus to take second place overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just two combinations in today’s line-up managed to crack the 30 barrier, and both did so by some margin. Second place overnight is held by US representatives Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus, who posted an excellent 26.7 — the exact score they delivered at a very tough Burghley in 2019, where they went on to finish ninth. But horses certainly aren’t machines — particularly when they’re fifteen-and-a-half hands of Anglo-Arab spice and sass.

“He’s been, let’s say, very cheeky the last eighteen months,” laughs Lauren. “I feel like that happens a lot when they get to that kind of, fourteen- or fifteen-year-old stage and have been and done a lot. They get a little bit like that — so it was nice to pull back the test he knows how to do and not have any pony moments and kicking out at the judges or whatever he does! He feels very fresh, so I was super happy to just get in and do our job and feel like he’s consistent again.”

Though Luhmühlen’s busy main arena, which is packed to the hilt with decorations and cross-country fences, tends to add a bit of buzz to proceedings, ‘Bug’ got down to business and Lauren was able to channel the extra atmosphere to add expression and sparkle to the movements. One of the highlights of the test, which best demonstrated the power and pizazz he had on his side today, was the extended canter, which showed arguably the clearest transition into and out of the movement that we saw all day and earned them very good marks from all three judges.

Lauren wasn’t completely convinced beforehand that the test was going to go in the right direction, though.

“He felt pretty cheeky in the warm-up,” she says. “You can always tell when he’s starting to think about it, because he’ll keep twitching his head in the canter and act like he has something in his ear, and you get a little like, ‘oh, crap!’ But there was enough atmosphere that he was like, ‘oh, I’m at a proper party finally! You’ve stopped dragging me around to stupid stuff!’ He needed something worth it.”

So what’s the secret to getting a talented, pony-brained superstar on side? It’s all about compromise, says Lauren.

“I promised him that he could stick his head straight in the air the rest of the weekend,” she laughs — and he did exactly that the moment the test was over, gaily marching out of the arena with his nose to the sky.

Though this is Lauren’s first trip to Luhmühlen, she’s already got the place sussed out as something that might perfectly suit a pocket rocket like Bug: “Everybody kept saying it would suit him — though honestly, I haven’t ridden anything that didn’t suit him! He likes to run and jump, and I really like the track from walking around it. It’s such a beautiful venue, and I was just so excited to get here — it’s the one place, I think, that Veronica didn’t get to, so I’m excited to finally be here!”

Austria’s Lea Siegl once again proves that she’s one of Europe’s finest young competitors with a super test aboard Cupido P. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s hard to believe that Austria’s Lea Siegl is making her five-star debut: after all, she finished fifteenth in her Olympic debut last year, and sixteenth in the European Championships, firmly establishing herself as one of Europe’s most formidable young stars. But the five-star box remained unticked until today, when the 23-year-old made her debut aboard the expressive 13-year-old German Sport horse, Cupido P. They produced an impressive, mistake-free test to put a score of 30.8 on the board, which was enough to earn them overnight third place as the competition stands.

For Lea, it’s an emotional milestone as much as it is a competitive one.

“It’s a special relationship — I produce all my horses by myself, so they’re at my stables for a long time, and of course getting up to a new class is always a special feeling,” she says. “It’s a different connection between the horse and the rider if you know each other for such a long time.”

That well-established partnership, which goes back a decade between Lea and Cupido, helped her to keep him confident in Luhmühlen’s atmospheric arena today.

“He was a bit spooky, but the test suits him quite well, and in the training I had a good feeling with him,” she says. “He was a bit spooky in the trot, but I’m very happy with the canter, and with him. He’s a very nice horse, and he’s very handsome and easy to handle, so he’s a nice dressage horse.”

Though Lea is pragmatic about making her five-star debut — “we’ll see,” she says, “but I’m excited about the cross-country!” — her competitive record with the gelding would suggest that we could well see the pair at the business end of the leaderboard through the weekend, too: they’ve tackled three CCI4*-L competitions together, finishing in the top ten in all of them.

Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI navigate the stretchy circle – always an influential portion of this test – en route to provisional fourth place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Great Britain’s Kirsty Chabert made the most of a tight turnaround from last week’s Bramham International, where she finished third with Opposition Loire, by closing out today’s competition with a 31.1 and overnight fourth with Classic VI. This comes as the first stage of a reroute from Badminton, where the 13-year-old British-bred mare ran well around much of Eric Winter’s tough track as pathfinder, but was retired two-thirds of the way around after two run-outs at a double of corners — but a win in Millstreet’s CCI4*-S last week proved that the wheels are still very much on the bus ahead of this weekend’s challenge. The pair began their week with a steady, classy test without any errors.

“She was very good, and very serious — she’s been known to be a bit flamboyant, but she’s now done three tests on the trot, and feels much more reliable,” says Kirsty. “She’s been out a bit more consistently this year; we haven’t had the stop and start of Covid, where we’d get horses fit and then just let them have a nice time. We’re able to get their heads back in the game now, the same as us riders.”

Tim Price and debutant Spartaco round out the top five on day one. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price has twice been a winner in this class at Luhmühlen, first in 2014 with the excellent Wesko, and again in 2019 on the extravagant grey mare Ascona M — and this week, he comes forward with two exciting debutants who could give him another shot at the title. The first of those, eleven-year-old Spartaco, ends day one in fifth place on a score of 31.4 — though their trot work saw them average much lower in the mid-20s.

“He’s coming along — he’s cool, and he’s really coming out of his shell,” says Tim, whose lost marks came in three of the four flying changes. “The quality of everything else is coming along so well; in the past, I’d really be honing in on those changes and slightly lose everything else a bit because he’s a bit under pressure, so I’ve decided to work on the quality and have him with me everywhere, in the hopes that that’ll bring the changes on a bit. One out of four’s okay, though — I could easily have had none! And he’s a first-time five-star horse, and everyone’s got their thing, haven’t they?”

Though Spartaco’s record has been a bit up and down, with learning moments intermingled with great successes at four-star level, Tim is a great believer in the process — and unlike the rest of his rides, Spartaco is owned by himself and wife Jonelle.

“I’ve got probably my most difficult owner in Jonelle, which is tough at times — especially when I keep cocking it up,” he jokes. “But we’ve always believed in him, and we’re invested not just in riding him. We’ve wanted to get him to five-star, and we hope we can demonstrate what a good horse he is this weekend.”

The top ten after day one of dressage in Luhmühlen’s CCI5*.

25-year-old Hanna Knüppel takes the day one lead in Luhmühlen’s enormously competitive CCI4*-S with GEKE Equigrip’s Levinio. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though the CCI5* at Luhmühlen tends to command the most global interest, the CCI4*-S competition tends to be the feature class for the home nation — not least because it also incorporates the German National Championship. For that reason, there was no doubt a universal sigh of relief when a German rider took over the lead after it was held by much of the morning by pathfinders Will Coleman and his reigning Aachen champion Off The Record, who posted a 28.2 to set the standard for the day.

Late in the session, though, 25-year-old Hanna Knüppel rose to the challenge and stepped up into the top spot, delivering a 27 with the huge-moving GEKE Equigrip’s Levinio — their first time ever breaking the 30 barrier at four-star. That huge movement has been part of the challenge thus far for the inexperienced nine-year-old, who has had to learn to contain and control his extravagance and pair it with balance and accuracy.

“We didn’t expect him to trot this big, and every dressage trainer is like, ‘if you don’t want to event him anymore, I can take him!’ Now, though the dressage is actually quite fun,'” laughs Hanna, who trained at the German Federation’s Warendorf centre before heading to university to study Media and Communications. Now, she’s working on making a tough decision: to finish her studies, or to continue riding full-time.

“I was riding in eventing since 2012, and did a couple of European Championships with a former horse at Juniors and Young Riders, and then I was studying the last two years. But then Corona hit and I was able to do a bit more work with the horses, and now it’s the question of if I go back to university or do more in the stable. I’m not quite sure yet, but at the moment I prefer the stable!”

Certainly, topping the leaderboard in this prestigious class is a compelling reason to stick at it — particularly because she’s produced the gelding, who she describes as ‘a little cuddle buddy’, since he was a five-year-old.

“He’s like my best friend — he’s always really relaxed and calm, and it’s just really nice to have him around,” she says with a smile.

Will Coleman tries out a new tactic with Aachen winner Off The Record. Photo by Libby Law.

Though Will Coleman relinquished his lead with Off the Record, his test this morning wasn’t intended to be a competitive one: he’s just here to put in the miles between the boards before a return trip to Aachen in two weeks’ time, where he’ll be putting a change of kit to the test.

“He’s not going to run here, but I’m trying a double bridle on him, and it was a good opportunity to feel it out in a proper competition setting, and in his first outing, really, since Kentucky,” he explains. “This’ll be my fifth or sixth time riding in it; it was just an idea that [dressage coach] Ian Woodhead had, and surprisingly, the horse really took to it quite well. It allows me to ride him a bit lighter and makes him present a hair better.”

Will, who jokingly described ‘Timmy’ as ‘a kitchen table with a Ferrari engine’ at Aachen last year, tells us that that won’t ever quite go away — “but he’s a bit more of a foldable table now,” he laughs. “It’s progress, and he tries very hard. I love the horse in his attitude; he’s a real brawler, just a fighter. He’s a good boy.”

While we’re disappointed not to see Timmy fight for a title here, Will returns to the ring tomorrow with the ten-year-old Chin Tonic HS — and as far as his more experienced mount goes, he’s delighted to get the chance to return to the site of their coup last year: “Anytime you get to go to Aachen, no matter the circumstances, you’re very blessed,” he says. “It’s a very special place, and I’ll go every year, if I’m allowed! I absolutely love it; whether it goes well or it doesn’t, it still just inspires you for the rest of the year. It’ll be surreal to see my name on the wall there, but 2021 was a long time ago now, and I’ve got to look forward.”

German riders hold three spaces among the top five, with Vanessa Bölting sitting third aboard the ten-year-old Ready to Go W on 28.6 and Nina Schultes holding fifth on 30.8 with Grand Prix iWest, while Bubby Upton sits fourth overnight on Jefferson 18, who she inherited in November from former rider Chris Burton, on a score of 30.1.

Tomorrow sees another full day of dressage competition, with a further 29 competitors in this class and 21 in the five-star — and some serious heavy-hitters among both line-ups, including Michael Jung and Highlighter in the CCI4*-S, and Tim Price and VitaliLiz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver, Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi, and 2018 winners Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo among the strong CCI5* contingent yet to come. We’ll be back with a full report, plus a deep dive into Mike Etherington-Smith’s cross-country track, tomorrow. Until then: Go Eventing!

The top ten after the first day of dressage in the CCI4*-S.

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Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Sneak a Peek at Luhmühlen’s CCI5* Track

We’re truly in the thick of five-star season now, and all eyes this week are on Germany’s Luhmühlen Horse Trials, which takes place in the very pretty Lüneberger Heide area of Lower Saxony (sort of near Hamburg, if that’s more geographically helpful for those of you who aren’t au fait with the continent’s nature reserves. Which is fair enough, we think). This was actually the rough sort of area where World War II officially ended, as the German surrender was accepted at Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery’s Lüneberg Heath headquarters, but on site at Luhmühlen, the battle is only just commencing: tomorrow, we’ll see the first 15 competitors in our 36-strong field head into the dressage arena, and on Saturday, they’ll take to course designer Mike Etherington-Smith‘s extraordinarily pretty track to work on rearranging the leaderboard. W

Want to get a little teaser of what to expect, ahead of our full course preview? Check out this video with Mike and his team as they head into the heart of those fairytale woods. Blissful stuff.

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Luhmühlen At A Glance: Meet the Horses of the CCI5*

We’re delighted to be back on site at Germany’s Luhmühlen CCI5* this week, where 36 horses and riders from 13 countries have come forward to tackle this sunny, merry mid-summer fixture. Before the competition gets going in earnest tomorrow with the first day of dressage, though, we wanted to take a closer look at how the field of entries breaks down — and first under our radar are the horses of this year’s event. From the smallest to the tallest, the dominant studbook, the percentage of debutants, and much more, here’s your Luhmühlen line-up: equine edition.

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One Horse Held in Sunny Luhmühlen CCI5* First Inspection

An enthusiastic crowd forms for the first Luhmühlen that’s been open to spectators since 2019. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Is it terribly dull of us if we schedule in a quick panic right now about just how quickly time is passing? It feels like just yesterday that we left Turniergelande Luhmühlen, battered, bruised, a wee bit knackered, and in the company of the CCI5* winners — but here we are, somehow back again, and probably in need of a serious eye cream at this point. The Luhmühlen we’ve arrived at is very different to the one we left, mind you: last year, the event ran behind closed doors, and so there was no need for a plethora of marquees, shops, and all the razzmatazz that comes with an event of this scale. This year, though, those doors are wide open, and the joy in the air is palpable. Luhmühlen is an event that really loves its spectators, and its spectators love it right back — it’s a stunningly beautiful, sun trap of a spot, with little Hansel and Gretel style outbuildings scattered around the course and jolly music being piped through the speakers from sun-up to sundown, and everyone, from fans of the sport to organisers to riders alike, is delighting in having a bit of normality back around the place.

Today’s timetable was all about the first horse inspection, and even on this noncompetitive day, we’ve started to see people filter in to check out what’s going on behind the scenes — and to absorb a bit of that German sunshine, which always feels just a little bit sweeter, somehow. Those who did come to watch were rewarded with a short but sweet bit of top-level horse-spotting, featuring some real stars of the sport such as 2018 winners Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo and 2019 European bronze medallists Cathal Daniels and Rioghan Rua.

Alex Donohoe and Guidam Roller are the only pair held in the first horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The ground jury, made up of president Christina Klingspor (SWE), Joachim Dimmek (GER), and Nikki Herbert (GBR), saw 36 horses through the course of the afternoon’s horse inspection, which took place in a new location alongside the schooling arenas. That meant that, unlike in previous years when it’s been held on the concrete walkway in front of the grandstand, the horse inspection unfolded over a forgiving dirt track — though one horse did still get sent to the holding box. That was Alex Donohoe‘s Guidam Roller, who is one of the strong Irish contingent in this year’s field. Upon re-presentation, the 12-year-old gelding, who will be making his five-star debut along with his rider, was accepted to continue the competition.

It’s just a joy to be back: David Doel, who acted as pathfinder here last year, greets the ground jury with the first of his two rides, Ferro Point. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The CCI4*-S, which some could argue is the feature class of the week as it incorporates the German National Championship, didn’t feature a first horse inspection, and both classes will commence the dressage phase tomorrow in Luhmühlen’s jolly, atmospheric main arena. The morning will be the domain of the CCI4*-S, which gets underway from 9.25 a.m. local time (8.25 a.m. BST/3.25 a.m. EST) with the guinea pig test, which will be performed by Josephine Schnaufer-Völkel and Pasadena. The first official test of the day will be produced by Will Coleman for the USA, riding his 2021 Aachen winner Off The Record at 10.00 a.m. local (9.00 a.m. BST/4.00 a.m. EST). 22 competitors will ride in this first half, with a number of highlights following Will and ‘Timmy’: Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Cascaria V could put in a very competitive test for Belgium at 10.07 local (9.07 BST/4.07 a.m. EST), while young British superstar Bubby Upton is in the ring with the former Chris Burton ride Jefferson 18 at 10.22 (9.22 BST/4.22 a.m. EST). We’ll get to enjoy a seriously competitive Olympic pair — and a former World Champion rider — at 10.45 (9.45 BST/4.45 a.m. EST) in Germany’s Sandra Auffarth and Viamant du Matz, while Young Rider European Champions Emma Brüssau and Dark Desire GS are in the ring at 12.47 local (11.47 BST/6.47 a.m. EST).

“Just a little taste?” A cheeky Cooley Quicksilver sneaks a nibble of Liz Halliday-Sharp as they present in the first horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The CCI5* will follow on after the lunch break from 14.10 local (13.10 BST/8.10 a.m. EST), with the guinea pig test ride from Anna Siemer and FRH Butts Avondale. Great Britain’s Tom McEwen will pathfind in this class, riding the first of his two debutant mounts, Braveheart B, at 14.30 local (13.30 BST/8.30 a.m. EST). We’ll see 15 CCI5* tests tomorrow, including Tim Price and debutant ride Spartaco at 14.45 local (13.45 BST/8.45 a.m. EST), 2019 European Championship bronze medallists Cathal Daniels and Rioghan Rua for Ireland at 15.07 local (14.07 BST/9.07 a.m. EST), the return of Bubby Upton and Cannavaro at 15.40 (14.40 BST/9.40 a.m. EST), the USA’s Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus at 16.25 (15.25 BST/10.25 a.m. EST), and promising British pair Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI closing out the day at 16.32 (15.32 BST/10.32 a.m. EST).

Lithuania’s Aistis Vitkauskas incorporates a nod to Ukraine in his trot-up presentation. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Want to check out all the times for yourself? You can do so here — and you’ll be able to follow along with every minute of the action in all three classes on Horse&Country TV.  In the meantime, check out our gallery of what went down in today’s inspection:

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16 Horses We’re Excited To See at Luhmühlen This Week

Somehow, Luhmühlen week is already upon us again, and Germany’s showpiece event brings with it two hugely competitive classes: the CCI5*, one of just two in continental Europe, and the packed CCI4*-S, which also incorporates the German National Championships.

Journalism is all about impartiality, but here at EN, we also occasionally like to indulge in a little bit of pure pony-loving madness — so here’s our picks of some of our favourite horses in each class and why we’re so excited to see them. It’s non-exhaustive, and we’re almost guaranteed to have missed someone you love, but that’s the beauty of subjectivity — so please, join in the discussion and share your favourites in the comments. Life’s too short not to fangirl over great horses, right?

CCI5*

Sophie Leube with her Boekelo winner, J’Adore Moi. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

J’Adore Moi

Sophie Leube’s 2021 Boekelo CCIO4*-L winner is elegant, typey, and looks like a Munnings painting come to life — and she and her German jockey, who cut her teeth in the industry as an apprentice for Ingrid Klimke, are a real force to be reckoned with. Together, they’ve also finished eighth at Aachen, where they led the dressage, and tenth in the CCI4*-S here, as well as a number of other very good placings at three and four-star level. This is their five-star debut, so of course there’s only so much predicting anyone can do, but we’ve been given no reason to suspect they can’t pull out a top ten finish and make themselves very, very attractive indeed to the German team selectors. We’re calling it now: Sophie will be an individual medallist at a championship within the next couple of years. Watch them closely this week.

Lithuania’s Aistis Vitkauskas and Commander VG. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Commander VG

Though the Lithuanian eventing contingent might not have made it onto your radar yet, they should do. Aistis Vitkauskas, who’s based in Denmark, is a serious producer of young eventers and show jumpers and the crown jewel of his stable, Commander VG, is a seriously appealing horse. He made his five-star debut as just a nine-year-old at Pau in 2020, jumping a very quick clear across the country. His inexperience caught up with him on the final day with a real cricket score in the showjumping, but since then, he’s only gained in strength, and he was eleventh on his second time at the level, which was a run here last year. He then went on to the European Championships at Avenches, finishing 25th with three solid phases, and he was eighth in a CCI4*-L at Sopot in Poland last month, too. His dressage scores stop him from being a real threat to the leaders at the moment: he can score in the mid-30s, but he can also score in the 40s, though he is still just eleven, so there’s plenty of time to iron out the little niggles. Across the country, though, he’s as genuine, straight, and reliable as they come, and a joy to watch in action. The goodness really just shines through with this chap — and at that Pau debut, we saw it in action in other ways, too: Aistis’s very young daughter took him for pony rides after schooling sessions, wearing her bright pink helmet and whooping with happiness, and we could have sworn we saw Commander smile along with her.

Tom McEwen and Bob Chaplin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Bob Chaplin

Another eleven-year-old in the field is Tom McEwen’s Houghton CCIO4*-S winner Bob Chaplin, who former rider Paul Tapner once described as ‘practically perfect’. This is a real contender for the dressage lead, as his naturally extravagant movement has finally been matched with sufficient physical strength and balance to deliver correct tests that judges really want to throw the marks at, as we saw when he earned a 25.4 at Houghton a few weeks ago. He was second at Burnham Market CCI4*-S this spring, too, and ninth at Blenheim CCI4*-L last year, so he’s certainly on a competitive streak at the moment — but really, he’s always been a competitive character. Back when he was under Paul’s stewardship, we saw him win the silver medal in the Six-Year-Old World Championship in 2017. This is his five-star debut, but there’s also every chance he could add himself to the elite list of horses who’ve won on their first run at the level.

Kylie Roddy and SRS Kan Do. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

SRS Kan Do

‘George’ is an interesting horse from a number of angles, not least because he’s owned by Downton Abbey actor Michael C. Fox and we still can’t figure out whether he’d be an upstairs or downstairs character if he was a human. Even better, though, is his partnership with the truly delightful Kylie Roddy, who took over the ride when Michael, who competed the gelding at the lower levels, had to focus more of his time and attention on his flourishing career. Kylie and George, who reminds us a bit of a classic, clever fox hunter, made their five-star debut together at Pau last year, finishing in a very good eleventh place, and they were excellent at Badminton, too, scoring a 29.4 and looking super classy on course until well past the halfway point, when the horse lost his front shoes and Kylie made the sensible — but heartbreaking — decision to put her hand up. This reroute sees them come back to the top having lost absolutely no confidence from their experience, and they should put themselves well in the hunt. We’re calling a top ten finish for the dazzling duo.

Cathal Daniels and LEB Lias Jewel. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

LEB Lias Jewel

This 12-year-old mare has an extraordinary FEI record under Ireland’s Cathal Daniels: in 26 starts, she’s finished in the top ten 20 times. That’s included ninth place on her five-star debut here last year, when she finished on her dressage score of 38.1 — quite high for her, though she’s generally a bit off the pace in this phase in the low-to-mid 30s — and eighth at Blenheim CCI4*-L in 2019. She’s placed so many times at four-star that it must be getting quite boring for them both, really, and she also represented Ireland in last year’s European Championships, though we did see her have a very rare 20 penalties there. Cathal is one of the most competitive riders in the world, and this little mare is full of gumption — enough to overcome a dressage score that isn’t quite up there with the big guns yet. That’ll stand in her way of a win this week, but don’t count them out of a competitive placing.

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Vitali

Former Luhmühlen champ Tim Price has two very interesting debutants in this week’s five-star — Spartaco, whose record has been a bit up and down but has some very exciting results in there, and Tokyo ride Vitali, who Tim inherited from fellow Kiwi James Avery in early 2021, after the gelding had had a couple of years out. They promptly won Strzegom CCI4*-L, the gelding’s debut at the level, just a couple of weeks after joining forces, and they were sixth in this class last year, securing their place at the Olympics. It went a bit pear-shaped on the final day there, with three poles falling, but they returned to international competition at Houghton CCIO4*-S a few weeks ago to take the dressage lead on 21.2 and hold it with an excellent clear jumping round before withdrawing. There’s a very strong chance that this is your dressage leader this week, and he’s a real weapon across the country — and time will tell if the Sunday goes to plan. If it does, he’ll give stablemate Falco a real run for his money as the selection for the World Championships draws ever closer.

Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Faerie Dianimo

It would be remiss of us not to mention a former Luhmühlen champion in the field, and 17-year-old Faerie Dianimo is just that: she and Jonelle Price won here in 2018, just weeks after Jonelle took the Badminton title with stablemate Classic Moet and established the Prices as the family of the year. (Or the decade, frankly.) They’ve competed at the Olympics, too, finishing in the top twenty at Rio in 2016, and they were tenth at Pau the following year. In 2019, they were eighth at Aachen CCIO4*-S, and then it gets a bit topsy-turvy: Jonelle put her hand up at Burghley in 2019 after knocking a safety device, and then at Pau the following year, they withdrew after dressage. They came here last year, but had a really unlucky fall when the mare pecked on landing after a straightforward single table. Their prep run at Millstreet CCI4*-S last week saw them finish seventh with a steady round and a 37.1 dressage, but they can certainly go sub-30 and made a real habit of it in the mare’s heyday. They won’t be the favourites on stats, but don’t count them out: Jonelle is savvy and wouldn’t travel a horse to a five-star if she didn’t have good reason to.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Cooley Quicksilver. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Cooley Quicksilver

Liz Halliday-Sharp’s great grey makes the long journey over the pond off the back of a very exciting result indeed: the pair won the very tough CCI4*-S at Kentucky in April, adding just 4 cross-country time penalties to their 25.7 dressage. They’re always well in the hunt at four-stars in the States, and the gelding is reliable across the country and only getting better.

This will be his third five-star — the now-eleven year old debuted at Kentucky last year, picking up an educational 20 penalties, and then jumped clear around Pau in October to finish just outside the top twenty as a result of his uncharacteristic three rails. Every time he comes out, he seems to improve enormously, and we’ll be looking to ‘Monster’ and Liz to put up a serious fight for the US this week, helped along by fellow competitors Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus and Matt Flynn and Wizzerd. They should be well up there from the first phase, and Liz will go out full of fight to stay at the business end of the leaderboard.

Felix Vogg and Colero. Ewa Wojtysiak photo.

Colero

None of us can stop talking about Switzerland this year, but Felix Vogg is a man who’s been pulling out super results for the nation long before the hype began. He and his Tokyo mount Colero finished sixth at the Kentucky CCI5* back in 2019, when Felix was based in the US, and they’ve got a serious list of four-star placings in Europe since then, too. They finished in the top twenty at Tokyo despite picking up eleven penalties for activating a MIMclip, and they come here off the back of a win in the CCI4*-S at Poland’s Baborowko International. They should start the week well, as they’re very good on the flat, and cross-country will be an exciting watch — they’re reliable and very, very quick. They’re prone to a rail or two, but if they can keep them all up, they could really cause a stir.

CCI4*-S

Esteban Benitez Valle and Milana 23 (ESP). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Milana

Spanish competitor Esteban Benitez Valle has two horses in this class, and there’s certainly a compelling argument for choosing nine-year-old Utrera AA, who’s an exceptional jumper and seriously swift across the country, in our list. But the heart wants what it wants, and our hearts are owned wholly and completely by Milana 23, the tiny, feisty, strong-willed little firecracker that Esteban has been piloting since 2016. She’s got as much scope as she has attitude, and she has plenty of that — so if you’re a fan of gutsy, exceptional gals, you’ll adore her as much as we do. She won’t challenge the leaders on the flat, because although she’s an exceptional mover and can do all the movements, she’s also prone to expensive tension in this phase. But watch her out on cross-country, and then over the poles on Sunday, and you’ll find her love for the game totally contagious. At eighteen years old, she’s one of the week’s ‘senior citizens’ — but more fool you if you try to tell her that. She’s finished eleventh here in a four-star before — though the October fixture, not the summer one — and should put up a jolly fight this week.

 

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Black Ice

This 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse did the rounds before landing with German up-and-comer Jérôme Robiné (yeah, he is German, even with a name like that): he was initially produced by Neil Morrison and Catherine Robinson of Ireland, before a good stint with Mexico’s Anibal Garrido Viveros, who gave him plenty of continental milage. Jerome took on the ride in 2020, and in their 12 FEI runs together, they’ve finished in the top ten eight times, including all three of their runs this season.

They’ve proven they can go sub-30 at four-star, though they more regularly do it at three-star, and they’re still gaining mileage at this level — but they’re quick and really fun to watch across the country and they’re good over the poles, too. This will be their first time in this class, but they shone under pressure at Aachen last year for 21st place and they’ve been seventh in the CCI3*-L at this venue before, finishing on their 34.5 dressage.

 

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Dark Desire GS

13-year-old Dark Desire GS and her 23-year-old rider, Germany’s Emma Brüssau, made major headlines in 2019 when they became the Young Rider European Champions at Maarsbergen. That victory certainly didn’t come out of thin air, though — the year prior, they won individual silver, and since stepping up to four-star, they’ve been finding their feet and throwing out some super results, including a win in a CCI4*-S at Renswoude in the Netherlands. Their partnership is well-established: since Emma took over the ride from Andreas Brandt in 2015, they’ve had 41 FEI starts, finishing in the top 15 in 27 of them.

This will be the pair’s second time competing in this class, which incorporates the German National Championship; last year, they finished just outside the top thirty after a respectable 32.3 dressage, just 2 time penalties across the country, and a tough three rails. It’s the final phase that has proved the trickiest part of their step up to four-star, but they’re a super pair to keep an eye on and Emma, who trains with Olympic gold medallist Julia Krajewski, is a real star in Germany’s ‘next generation’ talent pool.

Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Chin Tonic HS

Arguably one of the most exciting up-and-comers in the US scene at the moment, Chin Tonic HS is making his first competition trip abroad a bit of a homecoming one, as he was bred and sourced here in Germany as a two-year-old. He’s been part of Will’s string since he was five and now, at the age of ten, he’s got five four-star starts under his belt, with two wins, a third place, and a fifth place finish among them. His most recent run at Kentucky’s CCI4*-S (or five-star short, as everyone’s dubbed it) was a bit more of a fact-finding run, but he’ll have taken a lot from it and now, he comes to Luhmühlen to embark on the Master’s degree bit of his ongoing education.

European eventing fans might have some questions about his name and providence, because it’s very similar to ChinTonic 3, Julia Krajewski’s seven-year-old full brother to fischerChipmunk FRH, who was fifth in the Six-Year-Old World Championship. We’d argue both offer up the same excitement levels — and Will’s edition looks set to put up a serious three-phase fight in this week’s CCI4*-S, which is packed to the hilt with continental talent.

Aminda Ingulfson and Joystick. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Joystick

We first encountered Aminda Ingulfson’s clever, jolly Joystick when the pair came forward as part of the Swedish team at the Pratoni Nations Cup last month, which also served as the test event for the World Championships later on this year. Though both are still gaining experience at the upper levels, they’re a very cool pair to keep an eye on, particularly across the country: true to his name, 14-year-old Joystick tackles tough tracks with a big smile on his face, and Aminda is a real fighter, as described by Swedish chef d’equipe Fred Bergendorff. We saw their hard work, and all that contagious joy in their work, pay off when they took a win in the CCI4*-S at Strzegom this spring, and they were eleventh at Pratoni — but they also have Luhmühlen form behind them, with a thirteenth-place finish in a CCI3*-S at the venue back in March. Though the first phase is still a work in progress, they’ll put themselves close enough to climb on a low 30s mark, and we can’t wait to watch them do so in the hot CCI4*-S this week. Another good result under their belt could see them line themselves up for consideration for a championship debut.

Clever Louis

This is still a very, very new partnership, but Bubby Upton is one of Britain’s finest young talents and Clever Louis, who won the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S under Chris Burton in 2019, is an exceptional horse. Originally produced by Germany’s Ben Leuwer, he spent the latter part of the 2019 season with Burto, finished with a second place at Boekelo, missed 2020, and then had a couple of reasonably unremarkable runs in CCI4*-S classes in 2021 before his rider stepped back from eventing. Bubby’s been putting in the hours at home getting to know him, and though their one FEI run — the CCI4*-S at Chatsworth — was steady and uncompetitive, he’s an enormously talented addition to her string. This will still be a formative run, but they could just swoop their way into a competitive placing. Even if they don’t, though, it’ll be brilliant fun to watch them get to know one another in real time. The same can be said for her other Burto ride, Jefferson 18, who’s also in this class and also very, very exciting.

Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and her homebred Hooney d’Arville. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Hooney d’Arville

Sweet Hooney isn’t just any homebred — she’s out of Lara de Liedekerke-Meier’s Nooney Blue, with whom the Belgian Olympian stepped up from the Young Rider ranks to the World Equestrian Games early in her career. Hooney is just nine, and still finding her feet at this level, but she’s got plenty of talent and she’s also just an adorable sort of mare, who can often be seen cuddling Lara’s kids between phases. Their seventh place finish in the CCI4*-S at Kronenburg this spring was an exciting teaser about what might be to come this year, and they jumped clear around this class last year in the mare’s debut at the level. They were sixth in the Six-Year-Old World Championships in 2019, and Lara thinks a lot of her family pet — this week, we’re looking forward to seeing how far she’s come on in a year.

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Tuesday News & Notes from Kentucky Performance Products

We’re always in awe of amateur riders who manage to balance all the moving parts of their lives alongside their riding ambitions — but there are some pros out there who are quietly doing much the same thing. British five-star competitor Tom Crisp was honoured with a Jubilee service medal this week for ten years spent as part of the East Sussex Fire & Rescue team, which he fits in alongside running a string of horses, training lots of students — including son Harry, who’s stepped up to affiliated competition — and raising three kids with his wife, Sophie, at their Sussex yard. Oh, and he’s spent the last couple of years building the family’s home by himself — brick by brick. Good on ya, Tom.

Events Opening Today: Hunt Club Farms H.T.Horse Park of New Jersey Horse Trials II

Events Closing Today: Essex H.T.Chattahoochee Hills H.T.Summer Coconino H.T. ITwin Rivers Summer H.T.

Tuesday News & Notes from Around the World:

I know I’m not the only one who rolls my eyes so hard I give myself a migraine every time someone says “if gas prices keep going up, I’m going to buy a horse!” My friend, they cost significantly more than the $9/gallon we’ve reached over here in the UK. [It’s ranting time]

Planning to tackle the Adult Team Championships at this year’s AECs? Don’t forget to ensure you’ve submitted a letter of intent before the July 19 closing deadline, or you won’t be able to take part in this exciting competition. [Here’s what you need to know]

Imagine winning your FEI eventing debut. Now, imagine doing it as an amateur rider, who’s also making moves in the FEI dressage world while working as a stylist and managing life after the Army. [Lisa Chan’s got it all going on]

Need some schooling inspiration this week? Try this cool cavaletti exercise from Waylon Roberts, which will help you improve your horse’s footwork and jumping without the wear and tear. [It’s grid pro quo time, baby]

Watch This: 

Want to see what the competitors in Bromont’s CCI4*-L faced over the weekend? Check out this course walk with Elisa Wallace.

Got an ulcer-y horse or wondering if your horse is at risk? Check this out:

Equi-Jewel®

Simply put, horses need energy. Energy is traditionally supplied by cereal grains such as oats, corn, and barley. These feedstuffs deliver energy as carbohydrates or starch.

But what if you want to supply more energy to your horse without increasing the feed intake? Feeding a fat supplement is an excellent way to achieve this.

Fat is considered a source of “calm” energy and is thought to modify behavior in some horses, making them more tractable. This, in turn, allows horses to focus their energy on work rather than nervousness.

Learn more here.

The horse that matters to you matters to us®.

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